Signs of Trauma in Teens

Teen behaviors can be hard to read. Teens are in a phase of life where they are learning how to become independent and enjoy newfound freedom. In that effort, sometimes they make mistakes or can display strange behaviors. Some are normal reactions to things that bother them or are learning experiences; for example, a breakdown after their first breakup. Some reactions, however, are true trauma responses and escalate past the normal level of teen outbursts that can be classified as “growing pains” or general irrational behavior teens often display.

What Is a Trauma Response?

Trauma responses vary from person to person. However, in children and teens, they often go undetected. Trauma responses are a natural reaction to an unexpected and traumatic event. Reactions can look like shock, screaming, fighting, leaving the situation, freezing, uncontrollable bowel movements or bladder release, even survival tactics. Traumatic events for children and teens often include large accidents, sexual, emotional, or physical abuse, neglect, and more. Children who are consistently exposed to trauma may develop reactive attachment issues on top of general mental health decline due to trauma.

Trauma can eventually bring on mental health issues that may include general anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder, depression, trouble sleeping, low performance in school or social settings, and behavioral issues.

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) was originally thought to only happen in adults, but it’s highly prevalent in children and teens who have suffered abuse, neglect, or other forms of trauma. Children suffering from PTSD have trauma responses that can be similar to adults, though they can be mistaken as tantrums or normal child-like responses, so they may not be taken seriously. Parents will often downplay the severity of children’s PTSD symptoms either due to repeated behaviors and feeling used to them or shame over the fact that their child potentially has the disorder.

PTSD in children and teens will look a little different as well. According to World Psychiatry, signs and symptoms of PSTD in young people include:

  • A loss of recently acquired skills or educational progress, also known as regression
  • The onset of new, intense fears, or the reappearance of old ones
  • Frequent accidents
  • Reckless behaviors
  • Separation anxiety symptoms like clinginess, or constant testing of boundaries so that parents come running
  • Psychosomatic effects like headaches, stomach aches, and the belief that they are sick
  • Impulsivity
  • Secondary depression
  • Anxiety
  • Reliving of trauma through nightmares, flashbacks, or unwarranted and uncontrolled memories that flood in either on their own or due to a trigger
  • Avoidance of triggers or fears

The Journal of Traumatic Stress says that more than 96 percent of teens diagnosed with PTSD reported lifetime exposure to significant traumas or abuse, and often more than one type of significant trauma or abuse. Sexual assault was reported the least at around 24 percent, while community violence was on the higher end, reported in around 70 percent. Also on the higher end was personal victimization related to community violence at 70 percent.

The Lasting Effects of Trauma for Teens

Unfortunately, the effects of trauma do not end when the trauma does. Trauma is lasting and can stick with children and teens in various ways. The Journal of Traumatic Stress lists several lasting effects of trauma on teens:

  • Youth who meet the criteria for PTSD are more likely to later be diagnosed with depression than teens who don’t
  • Teens with PTSD are more likely to be medicated for mental health issues
  • School can become increasingly hard for those diagnosed with PTSD due to lasting flashbacks, irritability, lack of sleep, anxiety, depression, lack of confidence, and more
  • Some teens diagnosed with PTSD participate in self-harm
  • Many teens with severe PSTD end up needing the care of inpatient psychiatric treatment centers
  • Teens diagnosed with PTSD have an increased chance of later being diagnosed with bipolar disorder
  • Teens diagnosed with PTSD are more likely to be prescribed psychiatric medications for one or more psychiatric issues
  • Teens diagnosed with PTSD who are admitted to inpatient psychiatric wards are more likely to have longer stays and need further care beyond treatment
  • Teens suffering from trauma may struggle with trust and self-esteem
  • Teens with trauma may develop acute stress disorder, or other generalized anxiety or stress-related disorders

Treatment of Trauma

How trauma should be treated depends on the type of trauma the child was exposed to, the resources available, the support the child has, and sometimes the frequency of the trauma or what disorder has resulted from the trauma. The best place to start is to enroll the child or teen in therapy. Then, with the therapist and doctors, create a treatment plan that gives the child the resources and tools they’ll need to successfully heal.

Trauma can affect children and teens in a multitude of ways. Teen girls who have been exposed to abuse and trauma may develop other behaviors, fears, or mental health disorders that are difficult to deal with alone. Getting your daughter help for her trauma is imperative, and you can get help at Havenwood Academy. At Havenwood Academy, our professional and experienced staff will make a treatment plan that is specifically catered to your daughter’s needs. We offer a wide range of research-based therapies, including neurofeedback, EMDR, brain spotting, family therapy, and animal therapy. Our beautiful Utah facility is the perfect place for your daughter to work through and heal from her trauma. We know placement in an inpatient facility can be scary and difficult for families to face. Allow us to help you help your daughter. Call Havenwood Academy at (435) 586-2500 for more information about our treatment facility’s programs to help your family. 


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