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The Signs of Teen PTSD

At Sundance Canyon Academy, we have worked with many families worried that their teenage son is experiencing lasting symptoms from trauma. They are at a loss on what to do to help their son move past the trauma to live a healthy life. We are writing on this topic today to help parents identify the signs of teen PTSD and learn how to help. Contact us today for more information about treatment options for teens with PTSD.

We all hope that our children will grow up to have happy lives. We want their childhood memories to be pleasant and bring back warm feelings. Unfortunately, childhood isn’t always wonderful. Some children and teens experience seriously harmful events that can have a lasting impact on their mental health.

When people experience traumatic events, their brain function can change slightly. The memories of the trauma can affect their lives for years to come. Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is a mental health problem that affects people who have lived through traumatic experiences.

What causes teen PTSD?

When something frightening or stressful happens, the brain enters “fight or flight” mode. The body prepares to either run away from the scary thing or fight off an attack. At the moment, this self-preservation system can be extremely helpful. It can help us get out of a bad spot quickly.

When we are stuck in a scary situation for a long time, or if the situation is quick but extreme, the brain can develop some problems. Memories become tricky, and we can feel like we’re stuck in “fight or flight” long after the danger is gone.

Sometimes, the teen with PTSD may have experienced a traumatic event firsthand. Other times, they may have witnessed someone else have something terrible happen to them. In either case, the teen’s nervous system was triggered to react to danger and remember the moment.

Some common causes for teen PTSD include:

  1. Experiencing first-hand physical or sexual abuse

  2. Witnessing a violent interaction between other people

  3. Living in an environment where danger is imminent (a violent neighborhood, a violent parent, a violent sibling, etc.)

  4. Losing a close friend or family member in a sudden or violent way

  5. Experiencing or witnessing a bad accident (car crash, explosion, etc.)

  6. Living through a natural disaster (hurricane, tornado, earthquake, fire, etc.)

What are the signs of teen PTSD?

The signs of teen PTSD are very similar to the signs of PTSD in adults. Numerous traumatic events could cause PTSD, and they aren’t the same for everyone. Though we mostly think of adult PTSD in relation to military veterans, the symptoms are similar for everyone regardless of age or trauma.

Some common signs of teen PTSD include:

Avoiding the people, places, or things associated with the trauma

When a teen has PTSD, they might not want to think about or talk about anything associated with the trauma. If you try to bring them back to the place where it happened, they could become panicked or show stress as if they are presently in danger.

The same is true for being around the people or things that were present when their trauma occurred. Though this could mean an obvious avoidance of the person who hurt them, it could also include not wanting to be around anyone else associated with the event.

For example, if the teen was assaulted in school, they might not be able to walk back into the school building. They might not want to talk to their friends from class. They might not even want to look at their school backpack anymore.

Having trouble sleeping

The heightened “fight or flight” response can cause serious trouble with sleeping. Teens with PTSD might battle nightmares or insomnia. Conversely, their body might shut down for longer than usual and result in sleeping more than usual.

Having flashbacks

People who have been through extreme trauma can experience flashbacks where they feel like they are genuinely back in the traumatic situation. It can feel as real for them right then as it did when it happened.

Being jumpy or anxious

Teens with PTSD can be on high alert for danger at any time. This can become problematic when they are in areas that should feel safe. They never feel like they can just relax and unwind. Their body and mind are always ready to go into defense mode if needed.

Getting easily irritated

Because their brain is always on high alert, teens with PTSD can become easily irritated or frustrated. This Is especially true if they’re also exhausted from having trouble sleeping at night. They might get snippy with other people easily, ignore other people, or get into fights more easily.

Numbing their feelings

When teens deal with PTSD symptoms for too long, they can start to look for ways to numb their feelings. They don’t want to feel scared or angry all the time, so they use substances to make themselves feel better. Unfortunately, substance abuse only exacerbates the long-term effects of teen PTSD.

If you notice the signs of teen PTSD in your son, get help. The effects of trauma can be mitigated with therapeutic intervention. Some teens improve through treatment at home, but others need a significant shift from their surroundings. For teens who need a complete change, therapeutic boarding school can make a difference.

Call us today at 866-640-1899 to determine if our school could help your family.

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