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Teen Trauma and PTSD – Help for Parents

Teen trauma and PTSD are just two of the mental health issues that young people often face. Traumatic events are typically associated with soldiers in active combat, or veterans who have witnessed unspeakable horrors on the battlefield. But it is time for us to recognize that this problem reaches much farther. So many teenagers are victims of trauma too, and they need help. Parents also need guidance so that they can learn the best ways to help their children. For many parents, this is unchartered territory. PTSD and trauma can be life-altering, and they can lead to suicidal thoughts, substance abuse, and many other challenges. Understanding teen trauma and PTSD is the key. The more parents know about these mental health conditions, the more prepared they can be to tackle these issues with their own children.


What are PTSD and Trauma?

PTSD stands for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. It is often the result when a person is threatened by, or the victim of violence, injury or harm. Some people begin experiencing the symptoms of it a few days or weeks after the event took place. But there are instances when the signs of PTSD do not become evident until years later. When a teen struggles with PTSD, they may re-experience the traumatic event in the form of flashbacks. These can come to their minds as memories, nightmares or just as scary thoughts. Quite often, flashbacks are triggered by other events or items that may remind them of the traumatic event.

What is the Cause of PTSD?

Anyone can develop PTSD following a traumatic event, and this includes teenagers and children. The criteria for trauma is very subjective, and it is based on the victim’s perceptions. For example, for one teen, bullying may be experienced as a traumatic event, but it may not for another one. There are several types of events that may lead to PTSD in teens, such as:

  •     The unexpected or violent death of a loved one.
  •     A violent attack.
  •     A rape.
  •     A fire.
  •     Any type of physical, verbal or sexual abuse.
  •     An act of violence.
  •     Natural disasters, such as floods or tornadoes.
  •     A car accident.
  •     Military combat.
  •     Being diagnosed with a life-threatening illness or disease.

It is possible to develop PTSD after watching a loved one experience any of these as well. Many teens acquire survivor guilt, which means that they feel bad because they survived the event but a loved one did not.

Rehab for Teenagers

Signs of PTSD in Teens

When a teen has PTSD, they often develop symptoms of anxiety, stress, and depression. Any of the following signs and symptoms may apply, and they may:  

  •     Have intrusive memories of the traumatic event.
  •     Have unwanted or upsetting dreams or nightmares.
  •     Experience painful memories that keep returning.
  •     Act or feel as though the event is taking place again (having flashbacks).
  •     Experience fear when they remember the event.
  •     Startle easily when someone or something triggers thoughts of the event.
  •     Avoid having to think about the trauma.
  •     Refuse to talk about the event.
  •     Avoid people, places or activities that bring up painful reminders of the event.
  •     Have a difficult time remembering all of what happened.
  •     Struggle with feelings about the world being unsafe.
  •     Blame themselves for the event.
  •     Find it difficult to participate in their normal activities.
  •     Carry feelings of shame, anger or guilt.
  •     Find themselves detaching from the people they love.
  •     Struggle to have any positive emotions whatsoever.
  •     Find it difficult to fall asleep or stay asleep.
  •     Often be moody or cranky.
  •     Struggle to pay attention or focus on tasks at hand.
  •     Constantly be looking out for danger.
  •     Startle easily.

These signs usually become evident within the first month after the traumatic event has taken place. But it is not uncommon for them to show up months or even years later. There have been times when young people seemed to recover only to have symptoms return much later in their lives.

Barriers to PTSD Treatment for Adolescents

A lot of parents and teens may resist getting help for teenage PTSD or trauma because they do not see the need. In their minds, it may make perfect sense for the teen to have negative thoughts after a traumatic event. They may see it as something that will simply go away with time and not have any real, lasting effects. Also, both parents and teenagers may not automatically link the symptoms with the trauma that occurred. Teenagers may also have a difficult time confiding in their parents when they know something is wrong. Because of their own fledgling independence, teens are much more likely to try to solve the issue on their own. Likewise, parents may mistake the symptoms of trauma for typical teenage moodiness. They see it as something that will eventually pass, and until it does, the behavior becomes something to be tolerated and not treated.

Childhood trauma

Idaho Childhood Trauma Statistics

The CDC conducted a study that focused on reducing the number of adverse childhood experiences, or ACES, and what it might mean for their mental health. They found that:

  •     The number of depression cases could be reduced by 41%.
  •     That is 21 million cases of depression that would never happen.
  •     Heart disease could be reduced by 1.9 million cases.
  •     Obesity could be reduced by 2.5 million cases.
  •     Smoking could be reduced by 33%.
  •     Heavy drinking could be reduced by 24%.
  •     The unemployment rate could be reduced by 15%.

Idaho ranks among the worst states for childhood trauma, and there is so much that can be done to change this. Research has shown that the more ACES a teen experiences, the more difficulties they will experience later in life. For example:

  •     A person with one ACE is twice as likely to become an alcoholic.
  •     A person with two ACES is four times as likely to become an alcoholic.
  •     A person with three ACES is close to five times as likely.
  •     A person with four or more ACES is more than seven times as likely.
  •     A person with one ACE is twice as likely to commit suicide.
  •     Suicide becomes more than 12 times as likely for someone with four or more ACES.
  •     People who had six or more ACES died approximately 20 years younger on average than someone without any.

Fortunately, this is an issue that Idaho is taking very seriously. Idaho Public Television ran a documentary called, “Adverse Childhood Experiences – A Public Health Issue,” which really got people talking. Addressing PTSD in children and teens has become a movement in Idaho. Educators, law enforcement officials, healthcare personnel and judges have rallied around the issue and changes have been made. Now more than ever, a lot of Idaho organizations are beginning to offer support and talk about this issue, which is so important.Kylie Martin Miss Idaho Teen

2019 Miss Idaho Teen America Raises Awareness for PTSD

Kylie Martin, a freshman at Idaho State University, was crowned Miss Idaho Teen America in 2019. She was born in Blackfoot, Idaho and is pursuing a degree in nursing. But during her service, she became passionate about promoting her platform, which is “PTSD Awareness in Communities.” Kylie’s platform was borne out of her own personal experience with PTSD. She had a friend who was a foreign exchange student who drowned during summer camp that year. They had been playing volleyball with a group of people when he fell into the water while trying to retrieve the ball. Kylie has worked hard to overcome the trauma she experienced and strives to help other girls do the same.

An Idaho Woman Speaks Out About Her Struggle with PTSD and Suicidal Thoughts

Hilliary Miller is a 28-year-old woman from Caldwell, Idaho who suffers from PTSD, among other mental health issues. She spent many of her childhood and teenage years in institutions. She was completely unaware that the issues she experienced were the result of childhood abuse and mental illnesses. Suicidal thoughts plagued her mind, and she was constantly thinking that the world would be better off without her. For a very long time, Hilliary was just surviving. She would spend her days wallowing in self-pity until she decided she wanted a fulfilling life. It took years of therapy and treatment, and she admits that had she gotten help sooner, she would have gotten stable sooner. Hilliary states, “It’s okay to ask for help, and asking for help doesn’t mean you’re weak, it doesn’t mean that it’s a bad thing, it just means that in your time of need there are people out there that can help you; you don’t have to suffer alone.”

How Can Parents Help Teens With PTSD?

The most important thing for parents to understand is that they hold the key to helping their teens through trauma. There are so many ways they can offer support and assistance, such as:

  •     Openly communicating with their teens – By giving their teens a safe place to share their feelings, they facilitate the healing process from trauma. Teenagers need to be assured that what they are feeling is normal and that they are not alone.
  •     Helping their teens to gain perspective – Parents should help their teens learn as much as possible about the event that took place.
  •     Providing patience and understanding – This is a very difficult time for young people, and parents should not expect their children to just “bounce back” from it. It’s best to expect a period of rebellion, anger or clinginess.
  •     Informing the school of the issue – Parents need to be their children’s advocates during this time, and they should expect that school performance will suffer somewhat.
  •     Encouraging their teens to get help – Teenagers may feel helpless in the face of trauma. But parents can help them overcome that feeling by encouraging them to get help. There are other ways they can make a difference as well, such as getting the word out to their own peer groups about teen PTSD.

Teen PTSD Treatment

How is Teen PTSD Typically Treated?

Therapy is essential for treating PTSD in teenagers. Trauma-focused cognitive-behavioral therapy (TF-CBT) is considered to be the gold standard. This is a highly-targeted and effective method of treatment that addresses all of the symptoms of PTSD. Through TF-CBT, teens learn practical skills to help them recognize and label their emotions. They learn the difference between thoughts and feelings and how to avoid falling into what is referred to as “thinking traps.” An example of this might be assuming that the trauma that occurred was their fault.

Our Adolescent Day Treatment Program at Ashwood Recovery Nampa

At Ashwood Recovery Nampa, we take teen PTSD and trauma very seriously. We have developed our adolescent day treatment program, which specifically addresses their symptoms. Our program is accredited by the Joint Commission. It is focused on providing therapy, medication management, and academic success. It also includes parent education and family therapy. We are located in Nampa, Idaho. We specialize in working with teenagers, and because our program is small, our clients get plenty of attention from our staff.

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Talk With Someone Today About Teen PTSD and Trauma Therapy in Idaho

At Ashwood Recovery, we understand teen trauma and PTSD. We know that every client we work with has their own unique needs, which we are eager to address during their treatment. It can be so difficult for teenagers to cope with the aftereffects of a traumatic event. We are here to provide support and guide them toward the healing they so desperately need. If you are the parent of a teen who may be suffering from PTSD, we want you to know you are not alone. The situation you are facing may be completely outside your scope of understanding. You may desperately want to help, but you may not know where to begin. Together we can rally around your teen to ensure they get the assistance they need. Would you like to know more about treating your teen for PTSD? Please contact us today.