When kids and teens face severe bullying, abuse, a serious accident, or an unstable home life, it can set them on a course of emotionally poor health. Teens who experience trauma often face trouble at home, in school, and in their relationships. But they may not always tell their parents. Here are some warning signs of PTSD that parents can watch for.
Do Kids and Teens Suffer Post Traumatic Stress Disorder?
Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a form of anxiety that can develop after a traumatic event. The disorder could develop if the teen experienced the trauma directly, witnessed the event, or after hearing about something that happened to a loved one. Younger children are less likely to develop PTSD, though they face other developmental challenges. However, by adolescence, some teens will begin to experience PTSD symptoms like adults. Teens are also more likely to develop impulse control issues and aggressive behaviors. The more severe and direct the trauma, the more likely PTSD will occur.
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Why Parents Need to Know the Warning Signs of PTSD
According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, more than two thirds of kids and teens have experienced at least one traumatic event by age 16. But adolescents are often hesitant to discuss these events, or their responses to them, with their parents. In some cases, bullies or abusers will threaten their victims to keep them from reporting what happened. That’s why even if you don’t believe your teen has been traumatized, you should still be aware of the warning signs of PTSD.
Warning Sign #1: The Traumatic Event
PTSD can result from a variety of traumatic events. As a parent, if you know your teenager has gone through something stressful, you should be on high alert for PTSD symptoms. Triggering events can include:
- Physical fights in school (25% of high school students)
- Bullying, including cyberbullying (20% of high school students)
- Injuries or severe physical illnesses (15% of injured and 12% of ill youth have PTSD)
- Natural disasters (54% of U.S. families)
- Abuse or neglect by parents or childcare providers (just under 1% of children)
Teens might also experience PTSD after witnessing domestic violence at home, or when learning of a sudden or violent loss of a loved one to death or military deployment.
Warning Sign #2: Re-experiencing Events
It is very common for PTSD sufferers to relive their traumatic events. This can take many forms:
- Intrusive memories
- Nightmares (up to 71% of PTSD patients)
- Dissociation resulting from painful memories
Often, these re-experiencing events are triggered by sensations related to the event (similar sounds, smells, or physical senses). As a parent, you may notice that your teen avoids specific triggers. If your teen takes to avoiding certain people, places, or conversations, it could be a warning sign that they are experiencing PTSD.
Warning Sign #3: Depressed Behavior
Teenage depression is a serious mental disorder on its own. It can severely affect teens’ daily lives, and if left untreated can escalate to self-harm or suicide. However, depressed behavior can also be a warning sign for PTSD. Changes in the way a teenager’s brain works after trauma can result in:
- Decreased positive emotions
- Withdrawal from social circles or activities
Teens with trauma and PTSD may also develop a negative outlook on life, the world, and themselves. They may come to believe they are to blame for the traumatic event and its effects. If your teen is acting depressed and they have experienced a traumatic event, be sure to tell their doctor or psychotherapist, so they can be screened for PTSD.
Warning Sign #4: Physical Reactions
PTSD can cause panic attacks, hypervigilance, changes in sleeping patterns, and even direct physical pain. All these symptoms can negatively affect a teen’s physical health. As a parent, be on the lookout for:
- Muscle tension
- Back pain
- Aches and pains
These can be warning signs of PTSD that signal your teen needs help. As a parent, you can help your child recover after a traumatic event and manage the symptoms of PTSD. But you shouldn’t do it alone. Speak to your child’s doctor, or schedule an appointment with a psychotherapist, so they can begin the healing process.
David Stanislaw is a psychotherapist with over 30 years of experience. He helps children, teens and adults with post-traumatic stress disorder and other mental health concerns. Contact David Stanislaw to get help today.