Understanding Teen Trauma
When we look at the world around us, it’s not hard to find someone who has been through a traumatic experience. Every time we turn on the news, there is example after example.
When we think of the word “trauma”, many definitions or situations come to mind. We may think of:
- A veteran returning from combat.
- Police, fire fighters, paramedics responding to horrific accidents or tragedies.
- Someone who is a victim of a violent crime.
- Someone who has been physically, sexually, or emotionally abused.
All these things are traumatic experiences and have several things in common. They are experiences that:
- Can create an overwhelming amount of stress,
- May feel outside our control, and
- The emotions created can be so intense they may exceed our ability to cope.
Trauma can also carry with it a fear or perception that your life or safety is in jeopardy. But it doesn’t always have to have this qualifier.
Also, the same two people could experience the same experience and have different responses to that experience. Some protective factors that can all play a role in mitigating the trauma response include but aren’t limited to:
- A person’s age at the time,
- A person’s resilience,
- A person’s stress tolerance level,
- Level of support in a person’s life,
- The stage of life a person is in, and others.
Teen Trauma vs. Trauma for Adults: The Difference
When we talk about the protective factors, teenager’s may experience trauma differently than adults do. Being persistently bullied can be very traumatic for a teenager. As adults, we know how to handle someone who is trying to bully us. It likely won’t be that traumatic for us as an adult.
Teenagers are just learning these skills on how to navigate this social and emotional situation. As a result, teens may not yet have the social-emotional skills to cope with the bullying.
At a time when peer acceptance is paramount, complaining of someone bullying them may make them feel like they are losing face. As adults, we simply don’t care and will put a stop to it because through experience, we’ve gained those skills.
And unfortunately, it is not uncommon to hear of a teenager who has taken their own life because they were being bullied. You don’t often hear about adults doing the same due to bullying.
When we hear of teenagers talk about feeling “traumatized”, it’s important to keep in mind the social, emotional, and maturational difference in teenagers to that of adults. As adults, we may look at the experience the teen is describing and brush it off as non-traumatic. Because we are looking at it through our adult lens.
And as adults, we also have reason to be skeptical of when a young person talks about being “traumatized”. It may be due to our own experiences with our teenagers or through media or social media.
The Watering Down of the Word Trauma
A dad takes away his son’s cell phone and electronics. A mom has taken away her daughter’s access to social media for a time. Parents have to set limits from time to time and the response we often get from our teens is that we are “traumatizing” them. And parental eye roll ensues.
We also hear about all the various things that people are offended by today. Many times, in describing being offended, they use the word “trauma” or “traumatized”. While they may feel hurt, and deeply so, over some of the things that may have been said, using the word trauma waters down the meaning.
And when the definition of trauma is watered down because of these types of situations, those who truly do experience a traumatic event can sometimes not be taken seriously. When they aren’t taken seriously, they may not get the help they need.
We also tend to think of trauma in terms of the more serious, life-threatening events. While these can be traumatic events and some teens do experience this type of trauma, its important to remember that teens are also in a different developmental stage.
Other experiences in their life could create an overwhelming amount of stress, may feel outside their control, and the emotions created could be more than they can cope with. The definition of trauma.
Are There Effective Trauma Therapy Approaches for Teenagers?
There is an effective trauma therapy approach for each teen. Some may be better suited for talk therapy and there are effective talk therapy approaches. With others, talk therapy may feel overwhelming. There are approaches that involve minimal talking that studies have shown to be highly effective.
Some of the approaches that are effective with treating teen trauma include:
- Eye Movement Desensitization & Reprocessing (EMDR)
- Accelerated Resolution Therapy (ART)
- Internal Family Systems (IFS)
While every teen may experience their trauma differently, there is an approach out there suited for each. You don’t need to live with the effects of trauma any longer. Finding a therapist who specializes in teen therapy and used those trauma therapy approaches supported by research is key.
Guest Author: Jason Drake, LCSW-S
Jason Drake is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker – Supervisor (LCSW-S), Board Certified in Neurofeedback, EMDR trained, and a Certified Brain Health Professional through the Amen Clinics. He has provided therapy to teens, young adults, and families since 2003 and is the Owner & Lead Clinician at Katy Teen & Family Counseling and Katy Counseling for Men.
He specializes in leading teams of high performing therapists who also specialize in teen therapy, counseling young adults, and family counseling. Jason is also a leader in the field of teen, young adult, and family counseling providing expert coaching and technical assistance to teen Residential Treatment Centers across the country.
Jason is also a regular contributor to various magazines and publications lending his expertise to various mental health related topics. You can check these articles out on his “Featured Articles” service page. He has also been a guest on Fox 26 Houston and on a podcast, “Grow a Group Practice” with Alison Pidgeon.