Cutting and Self Harm in Teens: What to do

sad teen with head in hands

Is your teenager or a teen you know cutting themselves? Self-Harm is a dangerous trend in today’s youth. More and more teens are mishandling their stress and anxiety by hurting themselves. According to the National Center for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, an average of 13 to 35 percent of students intentionally injure themselves at some point, and some studies suggest those numbers are growing.

Demystifying Self-Harm Impulses

The American Association for Marriage and Families defines self-harm as hurting oneself to relieve emotional pain or distress. The most common forms of this behavior are cutting and burning. It is a coping mechanism for unmanageable emotions. Some teens express that if they can hurt themselves on the outside, it hurts less on the inside. Cutting is the act of deliberately destroying body tissue, mainly attributed to the attempt of trying to change a feeling.

depressed teenager leaning against a wall

Even if a teen never cuts themselves with razors or sharp objects, some simply find emotional relief by scratching their skin with their fingernails until skin breaks. Other ways that teens may harm themselves include pulling their own hair out, banging their head against walls, intentional falling, suffocation, and poisoning.

Peer pressure can also attribute to self-harm habits. Social circles can often gear ideas of making self-harming a game or dare for teens. “The Choking Game” is a dangerous and deadly example where countless teens have accidently killed themselves by trying to self-choke or pass out from temporary suffocation.

Helping Teens With Self-Harm Impulses

For the majority of teens in the habit of cutting, whether they are suffering from stress, depression, or trauma, many will hurt themselves in areas not easily seen, such as their upper arms and legs, or chest. It’s not generally an actual attempt of suicide, although it should be treated with the same caution and seriousness, but rather a way to end emotional pain. It can also in some cases not be about ridding themselves of emotional pain, but rather getting themselves on the emotional high of the risk and adrenaline.

sad boy sitting with head down

Parents need to continually have open, up-front communication with their teens about self-harming fads, as well as the physical harmful ways people try to relieve stress vs. healthy ways. Everyone has stress, and in today’s world teenagers have pressures like never before through media and social networking worlds. Finding healthy ways to cope with their stress, such as physical activity, journaling, hobbies, and when needed, counseling, are all vital aspects to protect teens from falling into self-harming habits. Family therapy is said to be one of the most effective treatments for adolescents struggling with self-harm. Know your teenager’s friends as well as their parents. Keep kids engaged in conversation regarding risky and dangerous behaviors. Teach them by modeling behavior and discussing of how to value and respect their bodies.

According to the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry (AACAP), evaluation by a mental health professional may assist in identifying and treating the underlying causes of self-injury. Feelings of wanting to die or kill themselves are reasons for adolescents to seek professional emergency care. Handle each situation with dire seriousness and respond quickly and lovingly toward a person expressing hopelessness either verbally or non-verbally through burns and cuts, abrasions, or bruises you suspect to be self-inflicted. Don’t wait to seek professional help with the issues of self-harm, depression, addiction, and other dangerous behavior.