Seen a dramatic change in your teen since lockdown began? A local psychologist advises

The teenage years is a period of tremendous physical, emotional and mental change. (SDI Productions/Getty Images)
The teenage years is a period of tremendous physical, emotional and mental change. (SDI Productions/Getty Images)

From the youngest to the oldest members of our family, no one is immune to the stress caused by the uncertainty we're currently living through.

Yet, given that teens are for the most part unable to express their emotions, local psychologist Dr Ilse de Beer is urging parents not to forget about their young adults during this time.

Describing them as the age group most likely to dust themselves off and carry on when faced with difficult situations, Dr de Beer advises they may already be carrying a heavier load than you might think. 

If you've seen dramatic changes in your teen since lockdown, or even sometime before, this may be an indication that your teen has Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

What is Post-traumatic stress disorder? 

"It could be witnessing or being involved in a violent crime or motor vehicle accident. Post-traumatic stress can also be caused by being exposed to community violence, peer suicide, sexual or physical abuse, natural disasters, diagnosis of life-threatening illness and the sudden or unexpected death of a loved one," explains Dr de Beer, a specialist in health psychology.

Dr de Beer advises that the tell-tale signs of PTSD can be seen in changing behaviour, sleeping patterns and even the physical appearance. 

If you suspect your teen might be living with PTSD, here's a look at what Dr de Beer says are the common signs. 

Changing behaviour

Teenagers who have PTSD may show: 

  • Regression in behaviour
  • Loss of interest in school or peer activities
  • Sleep disturbances
  • Lack of pride in their appearance
  • Problems with appetite or eating disorders
  • Sadness or depression
  • Antisocial behaviour
  • Poor impulse control and aggression

Psychosomatic complaints

Some will have an increase in psychosomatic complaints such as headaches, appetite problems and stomach aches. 

Increased self-criticism 

"We also find that teenagers become more critical of themselves and maybe judgmental about how they reacted to the traumatic event," says  Dr de Beer. 

Be on the lookout for phrases like 'I should have done that' and 'I could have prevented it' or 'I wish I had done more'. 

Primarily, they blame themselves for how things happened as well as their inability to recover. 

Unacknowledged feelings 

Long after the event, they might begin to feel anxious, sad, fearful or stressed, but they might not be able to recognise the origin of these feelings. 

"Parents, teachers and caregivers have a role to play in helping adolescents to recognise their feelings as well as pinpoint the cause."

How to help your teen

Dr de Beer believes that the most critical support group for a traumatised teenager is the family. 

Here's what she advises you can do to empower your teen. 

Acknowledge their feelings

"Encourage your child to speak about what has happened, ask them to describe what they're feeling and listen carefully to what they say. If possible, include the whole family in the discussion. It is essential to acknowledge their feelings and let them know that all reactions to trauma are normal.

Be understanding and tolerant

"We all have our ways of coping with trauma, and we do what we need to do to survive. Try to be understanding and tolerant. You can help your child cope by understanding what causes their anxieties and fears." 

Present a realistic picture

"As adults, we tend to forget that fears in young people also stem from their imaginations. When talking with your child, make sure to present a realistic picture that is rational, honest and manageable." 

When to reach out for professional help 

Dr de Beer says that in most cases, recovery from trauma occurs gradually over time, with stress relief, adjustment, acceptance, healing and through speaking about the experience. However, some do require professional help.

"Depending on the severity of the trauma that was experienced, how the parents reacted to it and the presence of other traumas and personal stressors, teenagers might need to be counselled by a psychologist." 

Most importantly, Dr de Beer says, do not turn a blind eye. 

"When it is clear that your teen may need outside help, don't ignore it. Seek the help they need. Remember, the teenage years provide the physiological and psychological foundation for adulthood. It is a period of tremendous physical, emotional and mental change. Carrying Post-traumatic stress through this already turbulent time is exceptionally cumbersome and can impact negatively on their lives into adulthood." 

Reach out for immediate support:

Suicide Crisis Line 0800 567 567 or SMS line 31393

South African Depression and Anxiety Group (SADAG) Mental Health Line 011 234 4837

Dr. Ilse de Beer Psychology Practice on

Akeso Psychiatric Response Unit (24 hours a day) 0861 435 787

Find a therapist near you on

Compiled for Parent24 by Lesley-Anne Johannes. 

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