Parenting Your Teen Survivor
Riding the Wave of the Teen Years
Teen years are filled with many ups and downs. As your child enters the wonderful world of middle school and then high school (and I use wonderful sarcastically), they face the challenges of finding their identity. Their peers become more important. Competing with thisis their expectations around their academic and/or athletic performances. Dating is a mix of excitement and anxiety. Choices about drugs and alcohol become their reality. This is overwhelming for any teen but can be even more challenging when you have a teen with a past history of sexual abuse or other complex traumas.
What’s all the fuss About?
Many times new behaviors, that are directly related to past sexual abuse, arise during this developmental phase. Much of it has to do with the influx of hormones but also in play is their new fund cognitive abilities. The interplay between the mind and the body is complex but often teens are faced with either confronting their feelings or trying to avoid them all together. They may have a resurgence of nightmares of past abuse as they start to experience sexual arousal and desire. Faced with these new sensations and past links to their traumatic experience, your teens goal is alleviation of distress by any means necessary. Self mutilization, drugs, and/or alcohol may feel like a reasonable escape.
Intrusive thoughts and feeling out of control are another hallmark for survivors which play a role in how a person feels about themselves. Otherwise known as self-esteem, a teen may feel like they are marked or tainted, undeserving of good things or love. If they are struggling socially all ready, being bullied or not making the sports team, then these feelings are reinforced. It may seem illogical to you but for them it’s their whole world. It’s proof that they are “bad”.
Self worth and how you feel about yourself are the cornerstone for this age. One of your jobs will be to help them build a positive self worth by loving and supporting them.
The 3 tips for parenting the teen survivor
So here are my top 3 tips for parents wanting to help their teen survivors.
1. Don’t be afraid to check up on them even when they push you away. There’s a subtle art to being able to attune to others and read their cues especially when they push you away. If you notice something different about your child ask them how they are doing. If they say “nothing”, which they most likely will say, support them any way. A simple statement of “Ok, I just noticed you seemed a little sad and I wanted to check in with you. If something is bothering you can always come and talk to me about”. If they do come and talk to you make sure you are giving them your full attention. That means putting your phone away and stopping what your doing. If its not a good time at the moment, then let your teen know that moment isn’t good. Then give them another time that same day when you will be able to give them your full attention.
2. Support them as they try to figure out their identity. Sharing your stories and encouraging them to share their stories about the challenges of growing up is helpful. You also want to help them learn to make decisions that are right for them. You don’t need to be perfect but being able to share your own struggles and what got you through could be very meaningful, even if they roll their eyes. One of the toughest things is trying to find the balance of letting your teen figure things out on their own and wanting to jump in and take over. Know your going to make a mistake but the key is the repair. Don’t try to play it off like you know everything. Show your vulnerable side, it makes your child feel safe so they are more likely to share their vulnerable side as well (and open up).
3. Spend time with your teen. It can be tough, they only care about video games or playing on their phones, but they still need you. They need your love, your boundaries, a shoulder to cry on etc. Share a meal together and a good laugh. These will strengthen your relationship and provide you with wonderful memories. When you spend one on one time with your teen enter into their world. Let them teach you about texting and laugh at yourself when you make a mistake. Creating joyful moments together is incredibly rewarding and your also modeling for your teen the experience of connecting positively with another. Again when it comes to sexual abuse survivors they are very disconnected from their feelings as well as their body. Often times its fear of the bodily sensations that occurred and have been paired with different feelings that cause them distress. By sharing in positive moments filled with laughter and smiles, you are effectively rewiring their brains to help them have a different emotional experience.
This is just a small number of tips that you can use to help your teen sexual abuse survivor get through the difficult years. By being their number one supporter you are helping them to get through a difficult time. It will be tough but it will be incredibly rewarding as well.
One Final Note
In addition to the list here I was a guest on the youtube channel of a wonderful colleague who specializes in working with teens. During this time I shared with her a little more in depth my tips for parenting teens who are survivors of sexual abuse, so if your looking for more in depth click here to watch it.
Sometimes your teen survivor needs additional support, and therapy can often help. If your teen is struggling and you want to give her or him additional support I would love to help. Don’t hesitate to contact me to schedule your first session.
These are just a few strategies, tips, and recommendations! I hope you found this post helpful! I’d love to hear from you in the comment section!
Thank you for taking the time to read. Remember sharing is caring, so share if you found this helpful!
Until we connect again,
If you have any questions or would like to talk to learn more about Sexual Abuse Therapy, feel free to reach out any time by visiting my contact page.
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This is a great blog post on helping teen survivors! I love the suggestions you made about how to be more supportive with concrete tips, especially about putting the phone down. I think most people have gotten to the point where they think of their phone as a constant. But you can notice more with someone if you are giving your undivided attention. I love this!
Thanks so much for your kind words. Yes it’s so important to get back to the basics with teens. When children are babies we notice everything they do but as they grow and start to push us away it becomes harder to engage. Even if its just a little bit of time a day its important to provide teens with that nurturance and undecided attention 🙂