Helping Teens Cope After the Flood

Our New Jersey communities have experienced a devastating flood. So many of our families have lost homes and possessions. The recovery to normalcy for some locations, especially Manville and Bound Brook will be long and difficult. We stand strong with our neighbors! One of the best ways we can help our communities is to focus on what we do best, which is supporting our local youth. Our staff is available to talk with our community’s youth and offer positive support!

Natural disasters are scary for everyone. Tragic events – whether it’s a hurricane, flooding, wildfire, or other disaster – are not easy to comprehend or accept even for the most mature. It’s even harder to navigate as an adolescent. Teens might feel too old to cry, but they are too young to easily cope with trauma in healthy, mature ways without some guidance. Today’s blog offers parents, teachers and other caring adults ways to help teens cope with the flood:

Tips for Adults

  • Listen. Create an open and supportive environment where teens know they can ask questions. Be available, positive, and open to all subjects. In listening to children, adults can ease a teen’s worries by correcting any misunderstandings and confusions.  You don’t have to come up with solutions or answers – simply give your teen a chance to talk about the problem.
  • Be honest. Give teens honest answers and information. It is important for youth to discuss the event freely and express their concerns and views. Let them know that you think their questions and concerns are important and appropriate. But stay honest; teens will usually know, or eventually find out, if you’re “making things up,” which may affect their ability to trust you in the future.
  • Identify ways for your teen to help. Studies show that we feel better about our own situations, when we help others in need. When teens reach out to help others, they gain a sense of control, self-esteem and how to respond constructively. If available, your children might participate in school or community projects designed to help raise money, supplies and materials for those affected. Parents are very busy, so teens could offer to spend time with younger children to play. If your own home was affected, parents can ask teens to help think of ways the family can work together to clean up, improve the situation, or keep expenses down.
  • Role model. Tweens and teens learn from watching their parents and teachers. They are very interested in how you respond to traumatic events so monitor your own reactions and conversations. Don’t hesitate to ask for assistance – there are so many people who want to help! Let your child know how you feel about the situation, which can help children talk about their own feelings as well.

How to Respond to Common Reactions

Everyone feels a variety of intense emotions after experiencing a traumatic event, such as a flood, and no emotion is “right” or “wrong.” Teens are even more prone to fluctuating or extreme emotions because adolescence is rife with drama, stress, immaturity, and hormones. Below are some common reactions that teens have to disasters and suggestions for how to respond:

  • Blame. Many teens experience feelings of blame, shame, or guilt after a disaster. Some feel that they should have done more to prevent or help the situation. Adults should offer a safe space for teens to express their feelings. They should emphasize that, while these feelings are common, they are not realistic. Let them know that they are not at fault, and even experienced and trained personnel, such as police and firemen, could not prevent the disaster.
  • Self-consciousness. Teens don’t like feeling vulnerable and they might be embarrassed about their fears. Let your teen know that everyone was feeling frightened and helpless, and in fact, that is an appropriate response to a terrible situation. Encourage teens to connect with trusted relationships for needed support.
  • Acting out. Some teens use alcohol, drugs, sex, or risky behaviors to numb the pain. Help teens understand that acting out behavior is a dangerous way to express strong feelings, and offer them healthier alternatives to express themselves, such as talking with a trusted adult, journaling, or exercising.
  • Attitude changes. Teens are likely to feel big shifts in their moods, such as angry, fearful, or even vengeful. Let your teen know that this is normal and that their feelings will subside with time. Meanwhile, encourage your teen to respond to those big emotions in healthy ways. Additionally, do your best to establish a structured routine, which offers a sense of security.
  • Shifts in relationships. Teens will be very sensitive to how everyone else is handling the crisis. Encourage tolerance for different courses of recovery. Be quick to apologize when you lose your own temper.
  • Premature independence. Some teens will respond to the trauma by trying to take control of their lives in new ways. They might want to drop out of school or get married. Encourage teens to postpone major life decisions for at least 6 months after a traumatic event. Find other ways that can help them feel more in control.

Final Thoughts…

As parents, teachers and caring adults, we can best help teens cope by listening and responding in an honest, consistent and supportive manner. Fortunately, most children are quite resilient and by creating an open environment where they feel free to ask questions, we can help reduce the risk of lasting emotional difficulties. However, some teens may really struggle to process the loss. If you see signs of depression, anxiety or withdrawal, don’t hesitate to seek professional counseling.

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