Trauma and Your Teen Daughter
In this blog I’m going to focus on teens, primarily teen girls. For the purposes of this writing I will be talking about youth from the ages of 11-18, which covers genuinely middle schoolers and high schoolers. Another focus for this blog is that I want to talk about those teens are quieter, more withdrawn. These girls may describe themselves as “good” girls. They don’t give parents or teachers much trouble. These teens get good good grades, are goal directed, focused, and generally compliant. Adults would describe them as mature and a joy to be around. But hidden beneath this seemingly perfect exterior these teens are in pain. They have experienced sexual abuse as young children and/or they have been sexually assaulted by peers or adults. They may have never told anyone about what happened to them, feeling as if it’s their fault or fearing that they won’t be believed. Or maybe they have told you, a trusted adult, what happened and your looking for ways to help them heal.
Typical Adolescent Angst or Something More Serious
Adolescence is tough for teens as well as their family. During this time your teen is going through another burst of development, very similar to those first five years. Your teen is forming their identity. Using a combination of family values, socialization from peers, cultural, and societal norms and their genes, your teen is incorporating all of these, sometimes conflicting, information as they come to terms with who and what they want to be. It seems like every day you have a new teen. Each day brings a new challenge and you as a parent have to try to navigate where to intervene and when to let them work it out on their own. On top of this, teens are known to be secretive. It’s at best annoying and at its worst it can be dangerous. Again you struggle with how much to trust and how much to press. It’s a constant battle that can leave you overwhelmed and exhausted as a parent and for your teen they may feel annoyed and angry at what can be seen as intrusions.
Again this is normal teenage behavior, and pretty typical for parent-teen interactions even with teens and parents who have the best of relationships. Yet you feel concerned. There is something off about your teen, that feels more than just the typical teenage angst.
For teens who have experienced sexual abuse as children, even if they have had help or never showed signs of distress related to the trauma, this may shift once puberty starts. Teens, with an increase in hormones and cognitive functioning, may all of a sudden begin to show signs of distress related to their past trauma. Many parents overlook the signs of distress, attributing it to typical teenage development when in reality their teen is struggling with painful thought intrusions, bodily sensations that are reminders of the sexual violations and/or difficulty sleeping due to nightmares/fears that they will have nightmares. In hopes that things will just go away or not wanting to worry their parents these teens do not disclose how pervasive these symptoms are, hoping that if they avoid thinking about them long enough they will go away on their own. By doing this they do not realize how they are increasing their own disconnection from their bodies which leads to feelings of emptiness or numbness which further keeps them from enjoying pleasurable and joyful events (as well as the negative emotions they avoiding). As a result many of these teens end up isolating from peers and family or having superficial relationships which make them feel alone and isolated.
For other teens, they did not experience sexual abuse in childhood but rather they have been assaulted/violated for the first time during puberty. This can be as a result of your teen who was “dating a peer” or even an older man who manipulated your teen into believing that they were in a mutually loving and caring relationship. By providing your teen with love, affection, and attention over the course of time they manipulated your daughter into trusting them. As a result of this intense relationship, your teen may have engaged in some exploratory consensual sexual behaviors with this adult or peer while also being forced or coerced into engaging in other sexual behaviors. Because they feel they consented to some they feel like they are to blame for the assault. Worse yet, especially if it’s a peer at their school, the boy may have told all his friends, and now your teen is getting bullied by their peers which further exacerbates her trauma symptoms.
In both instances your daughters behavior will shift pretty significantly and these shifts may cause you concern. These include but are not limited to:
–Appetite changes. Eating less or eating more, leading to noticeable shifts in weight in a short period of time (weight gain or loss).
–Difficulties with sleep. This includes problems going to sleep, staying asleep, or sleeping too much. It’s pretty normal with homework and social demands for your teen to become more of a night owl and have a hard time waking up in the morning but when it starts impacting areas of their lives it’s time to be concerned.
–Isolation or not socializing with peers as well as socializing with a different peer group which was not related to your teens previous interests. An example would be your daughter shifting to a peer group who engages in substance use or dresses in black.
–Change of dress/clothes. Maybe your teen dressed more conservatively but now she is dressing more provocatively. The flip is maybe she is covering up more, not wearing shorts or short sleeve shirts even during the summer months.
–Self harming behaviors such as cutting.
-Alcohol or other substance use.
How You Can As A Parent Can Help
So your coming to terms with your teen daughters sexual violation and your wondering how you can help. There are a couple of things you can do to help your daughter heal and from their trauma.
1. Don’t be afraid to check up on her, even when she 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. For many teen survivors, even if the abuse happened when they were younger, as they begin to form their identity and engage in romantic relationships with peers often times they are flooded with confusing and conflicting emotions and sometimes memories. This is where they need you to help them talk about their feelings and thoughts by giving them the control over the time, space, and amount to share.
2. Support her as she tries to figure out her identity. Sharing your stories and encouraging them to share their stories about the challenges of growing up and learning to make decisions that are right for them is tough. You don’t need to be perfect but being vulnerable and showing your human side helps your teen not feel alone.
3. Spend time with your daughter. It can be tough as your teen may be obsessed with her phone and her friends. But she needs your love, your boundaries, a shoulder to cry on etc. Share a meal together and have a good laugh. This will strengthen your relationship.
When to Seek Therapy and Find the Right Fit for Your Daughter
Sometimes all you have done is not enough. It doesn’t mean you failed, it just means your daughter may need additional support from someone outside of the family who is safe, nurturing, and knowledgeable and that’s were a skilled therapist can come in to help. Finding the right therapist means finding someone your teen feels comfortable with, someone who has years of experience and education treating sexual abuse and/or assault survivors in teens, and finally someone whom you feel comfortable with as well.
Sexual assault and sexual abuse of children and teens is sadly not uncommon. Many teens and adults have lasting effects from this type of trauma that may impact their relationships, their self esteem, and even their academics/job functioning. Getting help for your teen early so they don’t have to continue suffering is vital.
If your daughter is a survivor of sexual abuse or sexual assault their is help for them so they do not have to suffer in silence alone. There are skilled therapists like myself who are passionate and knowledgeable about trauma, trauma symptoms, and how to help survivors as they recover. Schedule a 90 minute intake today to get started helping your teen.
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,