Parent Tips for Helping Adolescents after Disasters

Reactions: Detachment, shame, and guilt


  • Provide a safe time to discuss with your teen the events and their feelings.
  • Emphasize that these feelings are common, and correct excessive self-blame with realistic explanations of what actually could have been done.

Examples of things to do and say

  • “Many teens – and adults – feel like you do, angry and blaming themselves that they could have done more. You’re not at fault.“

Reactions: Self-consciousness

About their fears, sense of vulnerability, fear of being labeled abnormal


  • Help teens understand that these feelings are common.
  • Encourage relationships with family and peers for needed support during the recovery period.

Examples of things to do and say

  • “I was feeling the same thing. Scared and helpless. Most people feel like this when a disaster happens, even if they look calm on the outside.”
  • “My cell phone is working again, why don’t you see if you can get a hold of Pete to see how he’s doing.”
  • “And thanks for playing the game with your little sister. She’s much better now.”

Reactions: Acting out behavior

Using alcohol and drugs, accident-prone behavior


  • Help teens understand that acting out behavior is a dangerous way to express strong feelings (like anger) over what happened.
  • Limit access to alcohol and drugs.
  • On a time-limited basis, keep a closer watch on where they are going and what they are planning to do.

Examples of things to do and say

  • “Many teens — and some adults — feel out of control and angry after a disaster like this. They think drinking or taking drugs will help somehow. It’s very normal to feel that way — but it’s not a good idea to act on it.”
  • “It’s important during these times that I know where you are and how to contact you.” Assure them that this extra checking-in is temporary, just until things have stabilized.

Reactions: Fears of recurrence and reactions to reminders


  • Help to identify different reminders (people, places, sounds, smells, feelings, time of day) and to clarify the difference between the event and the reminders that occur after it.
  • Explain to teens that media coverage of the disaster can trigger fears of it happening again.

Examples of things to do and say

  • “When you’re reminded, you might try saying to yourself, 'I am upset now because I am being reminded, but it is different now because there is no fire and I am safe.' ”
  • Suggest, “Watching the news reports could make it worse, because they are playing the same images over and over. How about turning it off now?”

Reactions: Abrupt shifts in interpersonal relationships

Teens may pull away from parents, family, and even from peers; they may respond strongly to parent’s reactions in the crisis


  • Explain that the strain on relationships is expectable. Emphasize that everyone needs family and friends for support during the recovery period.
  • Encourage tolerance for different family members’ courses of recovery.
  • Accept responsibility for your own feelings.

Examples of things to do and say

  • Spend more time talking as a family about how everyone is doing. Say, “You know, the fact that we’re crabby with each other is completely normal, given what we’ve been through. I think we’re handling things amazingly. It’s a good thing we have each other.”
  • You might say, “I appreciate your being calm when your brother was screaming last night. I know he woke you up, too.”
  • “I want to apologize for being irritable with you yesterday. I am going to work harder to stay calm myself.”

Reactions: Radical changes in attitude


  • Explain that changes in people’s attitudes after a disaster are common, but often return back over time.

Examples of things to do and say

  • “We are all under great stress. When people’s lives are disrupted this way, we all feel more scared, angry – even full of revenge. It might not seem like it, but we all will feel better when we get back to a more structured routine.”

Reactions: Concern for other survivors and families


  • Encourage constructive activities on behalf of others, but do not let them burden themselves with undue responsibility.

Examples of things to do and say

  • Help teens to identify projects that are age-appropriate and meaningful (e.g. doing the shopping).


You are welcome to send us a message using the following contact:

Bundespsychotherapeutenkammer (BPtK)

Klosterstraße 64, 10179 Berlin

E-Mail: info@bptk.de

Tel.: 030 278785-0

Fax: 030 278785-44