We’ve all heard that kids and teens are resilient, and this is largely true, but not in the way we might think it is. Often, resilience is used in the context of explaining why an adolescent might “bounce back” after witnessing a seriously traumatic event or enduring trauma over long periods of time. In other words, resilience is commonly thought of as a barrier to teens developing PTSD. However, this is simply not the truth, nor is it the correct application of the word.
Resilience: What is it?
A common misconception that people have is that teens that have experienced traumatic events will be able to simply “get over” what happened over time without any intervention due to their resilience. In truth, teens are just as likely as anyone to develop PTSD, and the impact of it can be debilitating with some symptoms being lack of focus, flashbacks, irritability, and interpersonal difficulties. While a teen’s resilience cannot prevent this, it is going to be what helps them overcome the side effects of PTSD if given the proper tools and help as needed.
We’ve all heard the phrase, “you can’t teach an old dog new tricks,” and this is where the true application of resilience comes into play. Young people are still developing and therefore they are more pliable to learning new ways of thinking. No behavior or thought pattern is totally set in stone for them, so they are very likely to be able to pick up healthy mindsets and coping skills if given the chance. What we can do as caregivers is simply provide them with the tools to activate this resilience they have.
What You Can Do
No one will ever be able to change what happened to our teens as much as we’d like to, but there are many ways we can offer support going forward. The most important way we can support teens is by simply being there for them. By this I mean providing a non-judgmental listening ear, validating their emotions, and offering empathy. Some good phrases to use might be, “I can’t imagine how you must be going through,” or, “I think anyone in your situation would feel the same way.” Be a solid, loving individual from which they can go forth and explore the world and make mistakes because they know that you will always be there to care for them unconditionally.
This does not, however, mean you do not set boundaries with them. Knowing the expectations and being expected to respect them is part of them being able to feel safe with you. It is also a way of modeling healthy boundaries, and healthy boundaries are something that teens with PTSD may not be accustomed to but it is something they will undoubtedly need to know how to have in order to lead a healthy life.
Professional help is also highly recommended in cases of PTSD in teens. A therapist can aid teens in processing their trauma as well as offer many helpful grounding skills that your teen can use to cope with trauma in their daily life. They can also participate in group therapy to be able to connect with other individuals their age in a controlled environment. Often the therapeutic tools they learn through these outlets can continue to be used well into adulthood and beyond.
The ultimate truth about teens and PTSD is that it is a very common occurrence for individuals who have experienced trauma and without intervention the impact can be life long. Fortunately, we have all the tools to allow teens to use their resilience in a way that can be extremely beneficial to their healing process. Please contact us with any further questions you may have.