How Child Abuse Affects Teens


Researchers are learning more about the effects of child abuse on teenagers. In fact, one study shows that child abuse results in harmful, physical changes to teens’ brains. Children who had been emotionally or physically abused had less gray matter in their brains than children who were not victims of abuse.


The affected area of the brain involves attention, decision-making, and emotional and impulse control. This study reveals that teens who suffered child abuse are at a greater risk for behavioral and mood disorders, even if they do not meet the criteria for a psychiatric diagnosis. Teens who are victims of child abuse experience mental health issues and may be at a greater risk for addiction, suicide, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).


Effects of Child Abuse on Teens


Child abuse affects each victim differently, though the effects of the abuse often are severe and last for a long time. Children who are repeatedly exposed to stress and abuse do not have the same levels of healthy brain development as their non-abused peers.


Their brains are more reactive and less adaptive, putting teens who were abused as children at an increased risk for emotional and behavioral problems. They have difficulty expressing their feelings, and they struggle to regulate their emotions. As they age, they continue to have trouble dealing with their feelings, which leads to depression and anxiety before or during the teenage years. They also may develop PTSD and suffer from flashbacks.


Risk of Addiction


Teens who are verbally abused commonly develop low self-esteem and often turn to alcohol and drugs in an attempt to self-medicate and dull the pain. Overall, teens are more likely to engage in risky behavior than adults, and teens who are victims of child abuse are even more likely to do so. Teens who are addicted have a sudden change in their peer group, become careless about their appearance, perform poorly in school, and have difficulty in school or with the law.


Treatment Options for Teens Who Are Victims of Child Abuse


Teens who are victims of child abuse should receive professional medical treatment and therapy as soon as possible. The ideal treatment addresses both the addiction and the mental health issues at the same time. Teens are able to recover through supervised detoxification programs, counseling, life skills training, and various therapy options, including art therapy. By participating in therapy that teens can continue at home, they are more likely to make a full recovery and handle their mental health issues more successfully.


Another therapy option for teens who experienced child abuse is a PTSD service dog. These service dogs are psychiatric service dogs, rather than the typical service dogs that aid people with physical disabilities. PTSD service dogs are highly effective, as one report shows that 82% of people with PTSD reported reduced symptoms after partnering with their dog, and another 40% were able to decrease their medication. PTSD service dogs can improve a teen victim’s quality of life, decrease their depression, reduce their suicidal thoughts, and increase their desire to volunteer or be productive.


Teens who are victims of child abuse can live healthy, productive lives. Through counseling and therapy with medical professionals and a recovery process that addresses their mental health and any issues with addiction, suicide, or PTSD, teens can overcome their abuse and heal. Feeling safe is the most important thing for teens who suffered child abuse, and once they feel safe and secure, they are able to recover and emerge as well-adjusted individuals.


Sean Morris is a former social worker turned stay-at-home dad. He knows what it’s like to juggle family and career. He did it for years until deciding to become a stay-at-home dad after the birth of his son. Though he loved his career in social work, he has found this additional time with his kids to be the most rewarding experience of his life. He began writing for to share his experiences and to help guide anyone struggling to find the best path for their life, career, and/or family.


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