By Ken Myers
Image courtesy of Marin / FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Just being a teenager can be a traumatic time for many, but unfortunately other issues also can compound these problems. Divorce, abuse, death of a loved one, and other trauma can assault a teen in ways that are different than an adult or child. As a child lacks understanding and control over these events and an adult can determine their own path, a teenager can feel lost and hurt with nothing to do. This trauma, if left unhandled, can lead to a host of problems as the teen grows into adulthood. Here are some ways you can help the teen in your life through trauma successfully:
1. Don’t Push – The first thing you can do for them is not to push them into healing. Trauma is an individual struggle that you can’t fix for them. Instead of pushing them to ‘get through it’ or ‘move on’ or even talk about it, try to give them their own space and time to heal. Make that you let them know that you are there if they want to talk or ask for advice, but don’t push your thinking or way of dealing with trauma onto them. Unless they are harming themselves or others, allow them to heal in the way they are comfortable. Some teens take comfort in music, others in tears, yet others become reckless. Help to curb the dangerous aspects of their behavior, but encourage them in dealing with their feelings in healthy ways. For example, if they are looking for an adrenaline rush help them sign up for skydiving classes instead of illegal street racing.
2. Be There – Just being there for a teen is worth a lot. Many people forget how important it is to have support during hard times, especially if they are hurting too. Trauma makes you want to pull away from others in an attempt to heal. This is okay to do in the short term, but in the long term it can become unhealthy. Help your teen to come back out into the world by being there for them. Help them to ease back into their normal activities. Make sure you work at their pace, what they are comfortable with. Even a stuffed animal or pet can bring comfort during suffering, so don’t underestimate the power of just being there.
3. Give Them Something to Do – Some teens feel helpless in the face of trauma. They do not have the responsibility of adulthood that helps us to cope by having a task, nor do they have the blissful ignorance of childhood. Instead they get all the emotional impact without the ability to act on it. However, you can help them to see what they can do. Having a task can really help them to deal with trauma in a healthy way. From going to the florist to pick up the flowers for a funeral to helping other abused children to joining an online support group, there are many ways a teen can take an active role in traumatic situations. By making them feel like they are an important part of the healing process they can take the steps to heal themselves.
4. Safe Zone – After trauma your first instinct is to retreat to safety. This can be especially true of already introverted or shy teens. Instead of forcing them out to heal, you need to respect their safe zones. A safe zone can be their bedroom, a tree house, their car or wherever they feel comfortable. You should respect their space and not enter in unless invited. Even cleaning or picking up their area is an invasion of their safe zone and takes away from its protection. Always ask a teen before you enter and take no for an answer without demanding an explanation or getting upset. Respecting their boundaries is the first step to gaining their trust and having them open up to you about the trauma.
5. Professional Help – As an adult you may want to think that professional help is not needed except in the most dire of cases but this is simply not true. To a teen even ‘small’ traumas can feel like huge, overwhelming things. Remember that teens are not as well equipped as adults for handling stress and suffering. They have not had the life experience yet to figure out how to deal well with their emotions and reactions. That is why professional help is so vital, even if it is only for the short term. A professional can help a teen to deal with trauma instead of hiding it or dwelling on it. Having an objective outside listener can also help reluctant teens open up in a safe way and learn coping skills.
6. Expectation Reset – Many teens feel overwhelmed by trauma and the emotions surrounding it and then the additional load of school work or social networking seems like a huge obstacle. Those teens will either drop out of the world all together or attempt to do everything and work themselves sick. Instead of letting the teen get to this point help them to deal better by resetting their expectations. Teen have many unrealistic expectations about what others expect from them and what they expect from themselves. If you can frame it in a positive way then they can better deal with the issues. Help them to set up a schedule that works for them, prioritize what needs to be done, and set aside quiet time to deal with feelings every day. Mediation and exercise can also help, so yoga classes and the like are great ways for teens to set aside quiet time without being sidetracked by other activities.
7. Don’t Take it Personally – Teens will often lash out when they have been hurt. Although that is not a healthy way of interacting, it is understandable. You should not take these attacks personally. Do not be hurt or get angry with the teen for their actions. Instead try to back away until they get themselves under control and talk to them about their words or actions later, in a calm and reasonable way. Many times they act this way because they feel like they are being blamed for the trauma or for not handling it better. Although this might not be logical, it is often true. Victims of abuse are often blamed by the abuser for ‘making them angry’ or ‘doing something wrong’ and thus deserving of the abuse. This blame mentality can cause teens to lash out in self-defense, even when no abuse is present. Take a step back and don’t react. You can gently correct them later on, but be sure never to blame them for the trauma they have suffered.
8. Stay Calm – Last but not least, in everything stay calm and controlled. The teens are having enough issues with their own emotions raging out of control. They do not need to deal with yours too. Even if you drop something on your foot or they break a dish by accident do not get upset. Instead keep your voice and actions under tight control and deal with the issue. Keep in mind that loud cries of happiness or silly, playful screams can also trigger anxiety in victims of abuse. Try to keep your emotions in moderation and your voice at a calm, low volume. This can help teens to stay calm and collected as well.
Trauma is never an easy thing to face at any age. However you can help teens to get through trauma in healthy ways with these tips. Remember to stay calm, stay respectful and be there for them. That is the best thing you can do.
About the Author: Ken Myers is an expert advisor on in-home care & related family safety issues to many websites and groups. He is a regular contributor to www.gonannies.com. You can get in touch with him at firstname.lastname@example.org.