In all armed conflicts, adolescents also suffer. In Ukraine as elsewhere. This is an observation that I made on the battlefields where I worked for a long time with Doctors Without Borders. Not only are teenagers probably the part of the population that suffers the most in these extreme situations, but their suffering is slow to be recognized and taken care of. As if it were worth less than that of adults.
→ READ. “My fear is to communicate my anxiety to him”: how to talk to children about the war in Ukraine
The founders of contemporary child psychiatry Donald Winnicott and Anna Freud had already denounced it during the Second World War. And it seems that we have made little progress since on this subject. Anna Freud is thus one of the first to have described the direct effects of wars on children and adolescents: like adults, they are in pain, they are afraid, they relive traumatic events, the dread of death, what results in hypervigilance, a fear of dying as soon as a situation similar to the one that made them see death in the face reappears. If a bombardment takes place at night, then every night some teenagers will be afraid to die.
The specter of depression
This extreme anxiety is reflected in the beating heart, in a tightness or sore throat and stomach but also in the impossibility of eating or sleeping at certain times. And then, after a while, a few months, these recurring symptoms become chronic and turn into depression. Teenagers lose the desire to live and become adults, they no longer believe that tomorrow will be happier than today.
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These are the direct effects of war trauma, but there are also indirect effects. Too busy surviving, parents lose their ability to take good care of their teenagers and pass on their vital impetus. These short, medium and long-term effects condition the very life of teenagers in the life after, the one that must be reborn after the war, the one that they will have to rebuild.
Taking extreme risks
Faced with this extreme vulnerability in times of war, vulnerability often compared to that of babies, the response of adolescents is often to engage or transgress by taking extreme risks. We see this in Ukraine, where very young people join commandos or local militias, sometimes without the agreement of their parents, so much they need, in this period of life when values are essential, to be consistent with them themselves and with others. So much do they also need to fight against injustice and to build ideals, to live up to dreams that allow them to hold on in order to survive with dignity.
Finally, if there are few teenage refugees in France, those I was able to meet find it very hard to have left Ukraine, a country they wish to defend. The country of their childhood, of their youth.