Elk River Teen Treatment Program

Caring Treatment for Teens with PTSD

PTSD Treatment Center for Teenagers

PTSD in Children

Sometimes terrifying events occur in the lives of children or adolescents, making it difficult for them to understand what has happened or how to bounce back afterward. When young people have trouble coping with a traumatic event, they are at risk for developing a mental health condition known as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, or PTSD. Sometimes it leads to maladaptive behaviors that must be addressed in a safe, residential treatment setting like the Elk River Treatment Program.

Children or teens with PTSD might have nightmares about the event or relive the trauma over and over in their memories. Suddenly they’re avoiding people and places that remind them of the event, making everyday life scary and challenging.

These extremely stressful events might include sexual or physical abuse, natural disasters, car accidents, war, and experiencing or witnessing other violent events at home or in the community.

Frequency of PTSD in Children and Teens

Trauma studies have estimated that anywhere between 15% to 43% of children and teens experience at least one traumatic event in their life. Of these children, a much smaller percentage will develop PTSD, from anywhere from 1% to 15%. Young people are more at risk for developing symptoms depending on the severity and frequency of the traumatic event and how parents and other family members react to the event. Sometimes symptoms persist for a few weeks or months, but when they are left untreated, they can become more complex and lead to other behavioral problems.

PTSD Symptoms for Children and Teens

A child or adolescent with PTSD can experience a number of symptoms, which include:

  • Nightmares, flashbacks, or frequent memories of the trauma
  • Becoming tense or on edge 
  • Difficulty concentrating at school 
  • Avoiding places and people who remind them of the trauma
  • Repeating behaviors while playing that remind them of the trauma
  • Impulsive behavior or angry outbursts
  • Feeling emotionally numb or hopeless

Treatment for PTSD in Children and Teens

Sometimes trauma symptoms in children will disappear after a few months. However, it’s important to consult with a mental health professional for an assessment and to learn about treatment options. These might include:

Play therapy – Young children with PTSD can benefit from play therapy techniques, especially when they are unable to comprehend or verbalize their thoughts about the trauma. Games, art, and other techniques can be used to help a child build resilience and process the trauma through play.

Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) – There is a trauma-focused style of this common therapy treatment that is frequently used in working with children and teens with PTSD. This type of therapy helps correct irrational or incorrect thoughts a young person might have about the event, and it can also help them develop skills for reducing anxiety and stress.

Eye moment desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR) – This therapy uses guided eye movement techniques that help a young person process their memories about the event and their thoughts and emotions associated with the trauma.

Medication – Many medications have proven to decrease symptoms associated with the disorder. Anti-anxiety medications and antidepressants have proven effective, specifically when administered in conjunction with therapy.

Specialized treatment – Sometimes PTSD symptoms can cause additional problems in children and teens, such as troubling sexual behavior, self-harm, drug and alcohol use, and other behavioral issues. Addressing these challenges may require outpatient treatment or specialized residential treatment.

If you’re not sure where to start, think about how you can make your child or teen feel safe today. Listen to their worries and frustrations, and don’t minimize or dismiss their concerns. Above all, don’t feel like you and your child have to carry the weight of trauma alone. What allies can you recruit at their school, in your community, and on a professional level to help them live their best life? PTSD can be treated, and your son or daughter can move past trauma and towards a full and healthy life.