Elk River Teen Treatment Program

Parents of Anxiety-Ridden Children/Teens Should Monitor News Cycle

Secondary traumatic stress can occur although event is hundreds of miles away

Indirect Disasters May Directly Affect Teens

September 08, 2017

Huntsville, AL - September 8, 2017 - If you’re the parent of an anxiety-ridden child or not, you may want to turn off the news when your child is within earshot.  However safe your family is from three hurricanes barreling toward the Gulf and East Coast, today’s 24-hour news cycle may set in motion negative behaviors related to Secondary Traumatic Stress. For parents unfamiliar with anxiety, it might be difficult to recognize negative behavior as a symptom of intense anxiety. 

Because their brains are still maturing, children and teens have a difficult time expressing feelings so their outward response to trauma may not be in sync with what is occurring inside their head. Parents are often unaware that their child is impacted by natural disasters that are hundreds of miles away. 

Sudden change in behavior may be linked to Secondary Traumatic Stress

According to Kathy DeMellier, Director of Admissions at Elk River Treatment Program for adolescents, many of the teens treated at the residential programs are admitted by confounded and exasperated parents that report a sudden switch in their child’s behavior that has led to unhealthy and even risky behaviors.

These behaviors are almost always linked to underlying trauma, depression, anxiety or unresolved fears that erupt from actual trauma (loss of a parent, violence) or secondary traumatic stress (indirectly exposed to traumatic events). 

Hearing First-Hand Trauma May Prompt Secondary Traumatic Stress

According to The National Child Traumatic Stress Network, “secondary traumatic stress is the emotional duress that results when an individual hears about the firsthand trauma experiences of another. Its symptoms mimic those of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Accordingly, individuals affected by secondary stress may find themselves re-experiencing personal trauma or notice an increase in arousal and avoidance reactions related to the indirect trauma exposure. They may also experience changes in memory and perception; alterations in their sense of self-efficacy; a depletion of personal resources; and disruption in their perceptions of safety, trust, and independence.”

Be Aware of Child's Vulnerability to Secondary Trauma

On-the-spot media exposure to disasters or impending disasters heighten a child’s vulnerability to secondary trauma and they can be exposed to it over and over. Internet coverage can reveal details that parents would otherwise shield their children. With Smart Phones in the hands of almost every child, it is difficult to sensor everything your child will see so be prepared to talk about what they have seen and heard. Provide comfort and compassion by reassuring them that they are safe. Attempt to be consistent in your day-to-day activities and make sure that your child feels free to speak to a professional if necessary. 

Jane Baker, Elk River’s Family Services Coordinator, specializes in the treatment of children that have been exposed to trauma. She speaks on the subject in this video:  https://youtu.be/d1yi32fdkXw