Helping Your Teen Recover After a Traumatic Event
A traumatic event is a very upsetting event that your teen sees or that happens to your teen or to someone they love. It may put someone's life in danger. Or it may cause serious injury. A car crash, a wild fire, the death of a loved one, abuse, and violence are some examples.
How can a traumatic event affect your teen?
Teens respond to traumatic events in different ways. But having some type of reaction is common. Teens may react to the event right away, or days, weeks, or months later.
After the event your teen may:
- Have changes in their emotions, such as:
- Becoming more anxious or fearful.
- Being easily angered or irritated.
- Feeling sad or depressed.
- Have changes in their behaviors, such as:
- Avoiding people or places that remind them of the event.
- Becoming very quiet, or spending more time alone.
- Having nightmares or disturbing memories of the event.
- Eating more or less than usual.
- Engaging in risky behaviors, such as unsafe sex or driving too fast.
- Using alcohol or drugs.
- Have physical changes, such as:
- Having headaches, dizziness, or tiredness they can't explain.
- Startling easily.
- Having trouble sleeping.
- Having trouble concentrating.
Most teens get better over time. But if you're concerned about your teen's symptoms or behaviors, contact your teen's doctor or counselor.
If you feel your teen might hurt themself, get help right away.
Where to get help 24 hours a day, 7 days a week
If your teen talks about suicide, self-harm, a mental health crisis, a substance use crisis, or any other kind of emotional distress, get help right away. You can:
- Call the Suicide and Crisis Lifeline at 988.
- Call 1-800-273-TALK (1-800-273-8255).
- Text HOME to 741741 to access the Crisis Text Line.
Consider saving these numbers in your phone.
How can you offer support?
Here are some ways you can support your teen after a traumatic event.
- Seek counseling.
A trained counselor can offer your teen some extra help. You may also want to find a counselor for yourself. You can ask your doctor for a referral. Or you might contact the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI). You can call the NAMI HelpLine (1-800-950-6264) or go online (www.nami.org/help) to chat with a trained volunteer.
- Offer comfort.
Some teens may need extra hugs or family time to help them feel safe and loved.
- Be calm.
Respond calmly when your teen is upset. If you're feeling emotional, it's okay to take some time to yourself.
- Encourage communication.
If it seems hard to start a conversation, you could ask open-ended questions. For example, you could ask your teen how their day is going.
- Be open about your feelings.
When you are honest about how you feel, it teaches your teen that their feelings are okay too.
- Follow routines.
Teens do better when they know what to expect. Follow your usual schedule for things like meals, school, activities, and bedtime.
- Support their social life.
Being around close, supportive friends can help take your teen's mind off things. You could also plan fun family activities.
- Encourage self-care.
Together, you could practice ways to relax. For example, you could listen to calming music, try meditation, or spend time outdoors. Also make sure to get regular exercise, eat healthy foods, and get enough sleep.
Current as of: October 6, 2021
Author: Healthwise Staff
Andrew Littlefield PhD - Psychology, Behavioral Health
Lesley Ryan MD - Family Medicine