Trauma is a pretty intense word to many people. Most people think experiencing trauma has to be something as big as Hurricane Katrina. Or they believe that it can't be as small as a fight with a peer in school. When we think about trauma, the biggest thing to remember is: trauma is defined by the person who has experienced it.
Losing a best friend could cause one child to grieve normally, while it could cause another to act completely irrational because they can't mentally process the loss alone. So how do I know trauma has affected my teen?
A change in personality. Your happy, energetic teen is now sad and irritable. The child that used to enjoy family date nights doesn't want to be a part of it anymore. The typically computer savvy teen girl now dresses provocatively and stays out later than usual. These could all be indicators that something is wrong.
Withdrawal. Withdrawal can be viewed from several different perspectives. This withdrawal could be from previous enjoyed activities as mentioned above. Or this withdrawal could be from basic every day tasks, ranging from "big" incidents to "small" incidents. A big incident could be neglecting something the teen previously regarded as an important source of fulfillment in their life. A small incident could be coming home from school and going straight to bed without eating or coming home from school and staying in their room until the end of the night.
Seemingly random outbursts of anger. Your teen is suddenly angry about E-V-E-R-Y-T-H-I-N-G! Outbursts of anger means that something is off track. It means that something has not been addressed properly and needs to be confronted. Teenagers are still developing their vocabulary and style of communication. Between raging hormones and under-developed brains, it gets tough to calmly express situations deeply rooted in pain! Let's make a mental note that this is also extremely difficult for adults with fully developed brains!
One could reasonably argue that every teen experiences these symptoms and they would be right! However, the difference in whether it indicates trauma or not is whether it interferes with their daily lives. Are these symptoms so severe that I have considered getting counseling for my teen? Have I tried to get my teen to talk about it and we've hit a brick wall? What do other people (teachers, family members, coaches, etc.) see happening with my child lately? If these are questions you have been asking yourself lately, you might have a teen who has experienced trauma. If you're not sure what's going on - getting a professional's opinion might not be a bad thing to consider...
BOTTOM LINE: Parents are the experts and no one knows if something is off with your kid better than you! Trust your gut!