Life can be unpredictable; unfortunately, traumatic events can happen anytime. In a previous article, we discussed ways to assist children to cope with trauma. We wrote the piece shortly after a traumatic incident at a secondary school in Singapore, where a student used an axe to kill another student while at school.
Similar events (e.g., school shootings) occur at an alarming frequency in other countries; incidents like these are less common in Singapore. Even so, traumatic experiences can profoundly impact teenagers, affecting their emotional and psychological well-being.
What Is Teenage Trauma?
Teenage trauma is any distressing or overwhelming experience that occurs during adolescence and significantly impacts a teenager’s emotional, psychological, and social well-being. Potentially traumatic events include:
- natural disasters or accidents
- unexpected deaths or diagnoses
- abuse (physical, sexual, or emotional)
- neglect or separation from loved ones
- unpredictable parental behaviour due to addiction or mental illness
- witnessing violence to a loved one or pet (e.g., domestic or community violence)
- going through a traumatic loss or breakup
Teenage trauma can have long-lasting effects on a teenager’s mental, emotional, and physical well-being. Common symptoms may include:
- becoming quiet or withdrawn,
- having difficulties forming healthy relationships
- being sad, angry, irritable, guilty or ashamed,
- feeling confused or worried, or blaming themselves for what happened,
- having intrusive thoughts or memories of the incident(s), nightmares, flashbacks,
- feeling irritability and heightened anxiety or fear,
- experiencing physical symptoms like headaches, stomach aches or loss of appetite
- anxiety, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD),
- behaving in difficult ways, disobeying rules,
- self-harm, cutting or substance abuse,
Supporting Teenagers Experiencing Trauma
As a parent or guardian, providing practical support to teenagers coping with trauma is crucial. Here are some strategies to assist them in navigating through this challenging time;
1. Educate Yourself
It is essential to educate yourself about how trauma affects teenagers. Learn about the common symptoms like sleep problems, appetite changes, difficulty focusing, and withdrawal from social activities. By being knowledgeable, you can better support your teenager and know when to seek professional help.
2. Create a Safe and Supportive Environment
After experiencing a traumatic event, it is vital for teenagers to feel safe and secure. To help with this, ensure their physical environment is stable and comforting, stick to familiar routines, and offer reassurance that they are loved and protected. Encourage open communication and let them know it is okay to express their feelings.
3. Listen And Validate Their Feelings
Teenagers may experience fear, anger, sadness, or confusion when dealing with trauma. Providing a safe space to share their feelings without judgment is crucial. It is essential to actively listen and acknowledge their emotions, letting them know their reactions are normal and understandable. Avoid downplaying or dismissing their experiences.
4. Maintain Predictable Routines and Structure
Experiencing trauma can cause a teenager’s feeling of stability and security to be disrupted. It can be helpful to maintain a routine and structure to provide a sense of normalcy and regain control. It is essential to encourage them to stick to a regular schedule for meals and sleep and continue with their daily activities like school or hobbies. However, it’s also crucial to understand if they need time to heal and adjust.
5. Encourage Healthy Coping Mechanisms
It may be best to suggest that your teenager takes a break from the computer or online games temporarily, as any negative comments online can be overwhelming after a traumatic event. Instead, focus on helping them develop healthy ways to cope with their emotions.
Physical exercise can be beneficial as it releases endorphins and can improve their mood while reducing stress. Please encourage them to participate in sports, art, writing, or with friends.
Yoga and deep breathing exercises can also be beneficial as they help them find calm during anxious moments. Encourage them to express their emotions through creative outlets such as journaling or drawing.
6. Encourage Professional Help
Although many teenagers can overcome trauma with the help of family and friends, some may need assistance from a trained professional. Trauma can significantly impact mental well-being, and seeking a mental health expert can help guide your teenager towards recovery. These professionals can offer therapy, counselling, and other customised evidence-based treatments to meet your teenager’s needs.
7. Foster a Supportive Network
It’s important to encourage your teenager to connect with friends, family members, or support groups who have gone through similar traumatic experiences. Being around others who understand what they’re going through gives them a sense of belonging and validation. Consider getting other trusted adults involved, like teachers or mentors, who can provide extra support and guidance.
8. Practice Self-Care
If you’re a caregiver for a teenager going through trauma, it’s crucial to prioritize your well-being. This type of support can be emotionally taxing, so take care of yourself. Reach out to your support system, whether that is friends, family, or a support group. Take part in self-care activities that allow you to unwind and recharge. Looking after yourself will better equip you to support your teenager effectively.
When supporting your teenager through trauma, it’s essential to be patient, understanding, and empathetic. Keep in mind that everyone’s healing process is different and takes time. Create a safe and supportive space, encourage them to seek professional help, and promote healthy coping strategies. With your support, your teenager can navigate this difficult time and emerge more robust and resilient.
Help with Coping After A Traumatic Event
If your teenager prefers anonymity outside of their school, they can speak to one of our senior Elucidation teachers. Our teachers will lend a listening ear. If appropriate and where necessary, they will refer you or your child to guidance counselling services and mental health professionals. Do be patient, as they may not have a list of the resources available on hand.
Helplines available to the public:
- National Care Hotline: 1800-202-6868
- Samaritans of Singapore 24-hour Hotline: 1800-221-4444
- Singapore Association for Mental Health: 1800-283-7019
- Institute of Mental Health: 6389-2222 (24 hours)
- Tinkle Friend: 1800-274-4788 (for primary school-aged children)
- AWARE Women’s Helpline: 1800-777-555 (10 am – 6 pm, Monday to Friday)
- CARE Singapore: 6978 2728 (Mon – Fri: 10am – 5pm)
- TOUCHline (By TOUCH Community Services): 1800 377 2252 (Mon – Fri: 9 am – 6 pm)
- Fei Yue Community Service: https://ec2.sg/
(Live chat Weekdays: 10 am – 12 pm; 2 pm – 5 pm; Closed on Public Holidays)
References: Our reading list for this article
- Yeoh, G. (2021 Jul 21). Coping with trauma: Acknowledge incident and talk about emotions, say experts after River Valley High death. Channel News Asia. Retrieved 26 Jul 2021 from Channel News Asia website: https://www.channelnewsasia.com/news/singapore/river-valley-high-death-coping-with-trauma-students-teachers-15254074
- Helping Children Cope After a Traumatic Event. (n.d.) The Child Mind Institute. Retrieved 26 Jul 2021 from https://childmind.org/guide/helping-children-cope-traumatic-event/
- Traumatic events: supporting children in the days and weeks afterwards. (n.d.). Retrieved 26 Jul 2021 from The Raising Children Network website: https://raisingchildren.net.au/preschoolers/connecting-communicating/coping-with-trauma/trauma-support-for-children
- Newman, K. (2015 November 30) Nine Tips for Talking to Kids about Trauma. Retrieved 27 Jul 2021 from The Greater Good Science Center, University of California, Berkeley website: https://greatergood.berkeley.edu/article/item/nine_tips_for_talking_to_kids_about_trauma
- CNN. (2015 November 18). French father explains terror attacks to his young son [Video]. Retrieved 28 Jul 2021 from Youtube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=L2S9An4AX0M