Adolescence is a critical period for brain development and trauma experienced during those years can be particularly harmful to an adolescent’s future development. When a child or adolescent experiences a traumaic event, such as witnessing violence, the brain initiates a stress response—a response originally developed for survival needs that triggers changes in behaviors. A student who has experienced trauma may display “fight or flight” behaviors, such as bullying other students or rushing out of class when confronted by a teacher, or detachment behaviors, such as isolating himself or herself from adults and peers or being disengaged during class.
As individuals become more physically able to protect themselves or run away, their predominant stress response changes to maximize their chances of surviving a threat. Consequently, adolescents exposed to trauma are more likely to respond with “fight or flight” behaviors than younger children. Furthermore, youth who have experienced trauma may distrust authority figures such as teachers and parents because they perceive the traumatic event as a failure of authority figures to keep them safe. However, including a trauma-exposed adolescent in a secure relationship with adults can buffer the effects of the traumatic event and allow the teen to cope and return to a sense of safety and well-being.
…Depending on the degree of trauma a student has experienced, it may take considerable time before that student returns to his or her normal behavior.