How to Re-Engage a Teenager Who Suffered Trauma

For some teens and children, trauma is a part of life that they are unable to escape. After a child or teen suffers from a traumatic experience you might find that they withdraw from the activities, relationships, and situations that they once loved; in some cases your teen may even start experimenting with things like drugs and alcohol. While you might not be able to change the past and erase the trauma—whether it’s a natural disaster, or a man-made event such as a car accident, crime, or abuse—there are things you can do to help re-engage a teenager who has been through these experiences.

Be There for Your Child

There is significant evidence that shows that children who have involved family members, guardians, friends, and caregivers are more likely to feel secure and to succeed than those who do not have these positive role models and influences in their lives. Even when your teenager seems withdrawn, it’s important to remember that parents and family members are one of the strongest influences for behavior in young children and teens. By being there when your teenager needs you (and even when they say they don’t), you can help your child find the things they need—including resources for help and belonging and love.

Stay Connected to Therapeutic Treatments

Studies have looked into many factors that might predict a teen’s success in going through trauma treatment programs, examining everything from logistical issues such as the distance required for travel to obtain treatment, social and demographic issues, such as income and race, and a child or teen’s history with treatment and suicide. While these factors can influence the success of the program in keeping teens involved, more important is the level of engagement that parents have with the therapy, and how well aligned a parent is with the goals of the therapeutic program.

A teenager or adolescent who is going through treatment for trauma likely lives with a parent or other similar caregiver so those people are a strong influence in his or her life, even without direct involvement in the treatment. Talk to the clinicians and program directors at your child’s treatment center to learn about ways you can participate and support the things they are doing in the program.

Minimize Stress and Conflict

A traumatic experience is hard for any child or teenager, but the effects of the trauma can last even longer if he or she is continually subjected to high levels of stress and conflict in a chaotic living environment. To increase the likelihood they will succeed and be able to overcome the trauma, do what you can to minimize these external stressors in their life by providing a calm living environment and reducing the levels of stress and interpersonal conflict they are dealing with.

Find a “Sponsor”

Just like an adult who is going through drug or alcohol rehabilitation, teens who have someone they can trust and talk to when things get tough—a “sponsor”—often have more success in re-engaging in their lives and getting through treatment. Whether it’s a parent or another supportive adult, finding someone the teenager can talk to will help set them up for success.

Understand PTSD

Parents whose teenager has experienced trauma should make an effort to learn more about post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), how it can manifest, and the most effective options for treatment. Being able to understand PTSD symptoms and behaviors can help you avoid blaming your teen or becoming angry if he or she exhibits unusual behaviors.