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Effects of Trauma on Teens: What You Need to Know

Effects of Trauma on Teens

How to Help Your Teenager Deal with the Long-Term Effects of Emotional Trauma

As a young person grows from childhood into young adulthood, the brain undergoes a significant number of changes. Negative events that take place during this time can lead to long-term negative effects. This is due to the effects of trauma.

Teen emotional trauma is really quite common. In fact, one study published in Minerva Pediatrica found that teenagers with PTSD were more common than adults with the disorder. Emotional trauma in teens may stem from one traumatic event, or it may come from a series of events that impact the emotions and the brain.

Parents who are concerned about their teenager’s behavior need to know whether behavior comes from trauma or something else. Learning to identify long-term effects of trauma will help families get appropriate help for their struggling teens. 



example of effect of childhood traumatic experiences
Childhood Experiences that Might be Traumatic - Source: Prevent Child Abuse Illinois

Long-Term Effects of Emotional Trauma on Teens

Regardless of the reason for the trauma, if a teenager suffers emotional trauma, they can have long-term, life-altering effects. These include:

  • Concentration difficulties – When the brain is in flight-or-fight mode, concentrating is difficult.
  • Decreased academic performance – When teens can’t concentrate, they can’t do well in school.
  • Mood swings – The anger, sadness, and depression of trauma can sometimes fluctuate and turn into feelings of elation.
  • Extended feelings of sadness – Teens who are struggling with trauma may end up with deep, clinical depression.
  • Physical muscle pain – Mental health concerns can actually cause physical pain.
  • Sleeping difficulties – Sleeping too much or too little can both be signs of trauma, as can disturbing dreams.
  • Ongoing fatigue – Even if a teen is sleeping well, trauma can cause ongoing problems with fatigue.
  • Feelings of agitation – Feeling “on edge” is a common sign of trauma.
  • Shame and guilt – teenagers often struggle with feeling like they caused the traumatic event.
  • Eating disorders – Teenagers with eating disorders are often suffering from trauma.
  • Feeling nothing – Numbing out to emotions can also be a result of trauma.
  • Violent behavior – Anger and rage can lead to violent acting out.

Impact of childhood trauma


Source: ChildTrends.org

FAQ About Long-Term Effects of Trauma

If you have a teenager who is dealing with some of these concerns, you probably have a lot of questions. Here are some common questions and answers that can help you on the path toward helping your teenager thrive again. Teen trauma is quite common, too. By the age of 16, more than 2/3 of the children in the United States will have experienced a traumatic event, and many of those go on to develop long-term effects of trauma.

What is teen trauma?

Trauma is an emotional response to something terrible that happens to a person. While there are many potential causes of trauma, the most common causes in teenagers are sexual abuse, loss, and domestic violence. Emotional abuse falls into the category of domestic violence, and it can be quite traumatic for a developing adolescent.

Why are teens so susceptible to emotional trauma?

The adolescent years are a time when the brain transitions from childhood to adulthood, and it goes through a number of changes. Neural highways get repaired, cell production increases, and the prefrontal cortex develops. Trauma directly impacts how the brain develops during this crucial period. As the brain grows and develops, it may choose to strengthen the wrong parts due to trauma. Thus, children and adolescents who experience traumatic events may be more susceptible to long-term effects because the brain is still developing. The high stress and hypervigilance that are common right after something traumatic happens impact that development negatively, making a PTSD reaction more likely.

How can I handle the long-term effects of trauma in my teenager?

The key to dealing with the long-term effects of trauma is identifying them for what they are and then getting appropriate professional help to heal the trauma. Once the trauma is addressed, you can start addressing the effects of it. Trying to manage the effects of trauma without healing the trauma will fail.

What role does exercise play in addressing trauma?

Physical activity causes the body to release adrenaline. Some of the long-term effects of trauma occur because the traumatic events caused an adrenaline release, and sometimes the body holds on to that adrenaline long after the fight-or-flight response is no longer needed. Physical activity also releases positive endorphins that can help reduce some of the negative impacts of trauma. Engage your teenager in healthy physical activity to help overcome some of the effects of trauma

How can parents encourage more social activities?

When a teenager is dealing with trauma, they may fall into a deep depression. Sometimes they may even struggle with thoughts of self-harm or suicide. One way to help combat these issues is to encourage more social interaction. If your teenager does not have many friends, and this can be common with traumatized teens who fall into social isolation, get them involved in a volunteer opportunity or see if they are interested in joining a trauma support group. Look for opportunities you can do with your teen, too, as this might make it easier to get your teenager to attend.

Will teen emotional trauma get better on its own?

Teenagers are usually quite resilient, but they often do not have the tools to handle the effects of trauma on their own. In fact, if teen trauma is not properly addressed, it will usually get worse, and the long-term effects will become even more damaging.

What therapeutic approaches work best for teen trauma?

Teen emotional trauma requires evidence-based mental health treatment to successfully treat. While there are many approaches a therapy team can take, these are some of the most effective treatment options:

    • Cognitive Processing therapy
    • Cognitive Behavioral therapy that understands trauma
    • Dialectical Behavioral therapy
    • Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing
    • Somatic therapy (body-based)
    • Play therapy (for young teenagers)


In addition, many teens can benefit substantially from seeking therapy in a residential setting, where they can focus on healing and growth outside of the pressures of daily life.

Does medication help teenagers who are suffering from emotional trauma?

Sometimes medication can play a role in treating trauma in teens. Anxiety or depression medications can help balance brain chemistry while treating depression. However, new research is showing that non-medicated solutions for trauma may be equally or even more effective at helping teens struggling with trauma. This is why working with a trauma-informed therapy team is so important because it allows a teen and their parents to see the big picture.

What can concerned parents do to best support a teenager struggling with trauma and its effects?

The best way to help a teen who is struggling with trauma is two-fold. First, be a loving and supportive place for the teenager to find help. Sometimes the behaviors associated with trauma are quite difficult to navigate, and many parents find themselves frustrated or even lashing out in anger. Second, make sure your teen gets the help they need. Do not assume that their sadness, depression, or trauma will improve; instead, enlist professional help.

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