Blue Shield of California’s BlueSky and the Child Mind Institute offer advice for parents and teens coping with trauma
There is no doubt the pandemic continues to upend our everyday lives. Young people are especially feeling this stress and grief as they continue to navigate another unpredictable year of virtual learning, isolation from friends, and watching loved ones struggle with finances and health. Experts say being put into a state of unrelenting stress can cause a trauma response for young people that can have lasting effects.
What is trauma?
A recently published guide from BlueSky and the Child Mind Institute defines trauma as “when you or someone you’re close to experiences something frightening or threatening that causes you more emotional stress than you’re able to cope with — even long after it’s happened.”
“This is a moment in time where parents and their teens are sharing an experience of community-wide trauma,” says of Blue Shield of California Director of Behavioral Health David Bond. “True recovery starts with being aware of (parent’s own] emotional experience and impact.”
Signs of Trauma Symptoms
Trauma symptoms in young people can appear differently than for adults. Here are some signs to watch for:
- Having nightmares or upsetting memories
- Difficulty trusting others (or themselves)
- Feeling unusually irritable, angry, moody, or sad
- Blaming themselves for bad things that have happened
- Feeling a sense of incompetence or inability to complete (or start) tasks
- Difficulty concentrating; “spacing out” throughout the day or during conversations with others
- Changes in appetite, self-care, or social habits
- Using alcohol or drugs to numb or change the way they feel (also known as self-medicating)
Ways Adults Can Help
It’s understandable for parents, caregivers and teachers to be worried about teenagers going through a tough time or traumatic situation. Here’s how you can be supportive and work through that trauma with them:
1. Be Conscious of What Your Children are Reading, Watching or Posting on Social Media
The Child Mind Institute recommends sticking with accounts, channels, and shows that bring joy – not ones that could bring them down. Social media can especially put youth in a bad mental place. Talking to your teen about why these forms of entertainment might be hurting them mentally is a great place to start.
2. Talk About It
Talking about the event or situation helps your teen feel supported and helps them begin to make sense of what happened.
Blue Shield’s Bond advises, “There is so much uncertainty but talking together is one certain step that can help the family unit work through traumatic experiences together. Make observations or ask a question, and then allow some silence to make space to listen. A simple, ‘how are things going for you?’ followed by silence can be the most powerful support of all to your child. It shows you are giving them a safe space to genuinely express themselves.”
3. Maintain Routines
Work together and establish new, healthy routines. For example, the Child Mind Institute recommends making an exercise plan or setting a consistent bedtime.
Parents will always feel a responsibility to ensure their child’s safety and mental health are well taken care of. By following these tips, you are taking the first necessary steps to help your teen move past their traumatic experience.
For more information, tips, and the full list of warning signs and symptoms find the Trauma guide here: BlueSky from Blue Shield of California | Resources for Parents (blueshieldca.com)