Helping Your Child Combat the Need to Self-Harm

Self-harm is a difficult subject to breach with someone at any age. Because the teen years play such a critical role in development, it can be difficult for a young adult to navigate them on their own. It doesn’t help that the warning signs for things like drug addiction and self-harm can present themselves as typical teenage behavioral patterns. Without sufficient guidance, teens may often develop unhealthy coping mechanisms to deal with intense emotions or feelings of pressure that may manifest through methods of self-harm, such as cutting.

What Is Cutting?

Cutting is a method of self-harm in which the person creates open wounds in the skin. This may be done by utilizing sharp objects, but may also be executed by burning the skin with hot objects, such as lighters or cigarettes. According to a review from 2012, 18 percent of people have cut or self-harmed, a statistic that equates to about 1 in 5 people. According to a study from The Opal Project, the most common ages for self-harm to begin are between 15-19 years of age, but some cases show instances of self-harm as early as 11 years old. This can be a staggering realization for any parent, but there are symptoms your teen may exhibit if they engage in cutting.

Some signs that your teen is cutting may include:

  • Fresh cuts, scratches, burns, bruises
  • Scars
  • Statements that convey a sense of hopelessness or worthlessness
  • Emotional instability and unpredictable behavior

These signs may be difficult to notice initially as cutters tend to isolate before they engage in self-harm. While many people know to look for cuts on the arms, wrists, and lower legs, other areas of the body that are less visible, such as the inner thighs, underarms, and feet can be common sites of injury. You may see small scratches or cuts on your teen and think they are not a cause for alarm, but if you begin to notice a new cut or wound at least once a week, it may be a source of concern.

Figuring Out the Roots of Cutting

Understanding the reasons for cutting can be the key to helping your teen deal with self-harm. As your child transitions into their teen years, they may begin dealing with intense feelings of pressure or an overwhelming amount of new and complex emotions. Cutting is often treated as a ritual similar to an eating disorder. The process of self-harm may feel like a binge or a release. The person may feel they are “purging” themselves of negative or overwhelming emotions, or they may be wounding themselves in the absence of emotion. Some people who engage in self-harm report that they do so to “feel something,” or to avoid something they do not want to do.

Teens who exhibit symptoms of bipolar disorder may utilize cutting as a method of getting attention, but it is important to note that evidence of cutting or self-harm does not necessarily indicate that a person is mentally ill. Cutting presents a very unique form of stress relief which is why many who self-harm find the process to be so addictive. It is important to confront your teen about these behaviors with a sense of empathy. You want to create an environment where your teen doesn’t feel as if they are being judged. Introducing your teen to healthy methods of coping with stress and anxiety is key in steering them away from the path of self-harm.

Even with the proper levels of engagement on behalf of the parent, teens may be resistant to give up self-harming methods as a means of coping. 40 to 60 percent of teens continue to engage in cutting, even after they undergo inpatient treatment. If your teen begins to exhibit signs of self-harm, finding them the right counseling is essential in preventing this behavior from continuing into adulthood. This condition may present itself for a number of reasons, so consistent therapy and treatment is the best way to decrease the frequency of self-harm. Relying on businesses that specialize in behavioral health for teens is one way a parent can ensure their child is getting the best care.

Getting Help

Institutions like Centered Health focus on treating addiction, mental health, and behavioral problems specifically for teens. Sometimes the everyday stressors of life can be overwhelming enough for teens to relapse into destructive behavioral patterns, so relying on residential treatment programs like those offered at Centered Health can greatly decrease the desire to self-harm.

Seeing your teen in such a vulnerable state can take a toll on your entire family. Thanks to the inpatient treatment offered at places like Centered Health, your family can find solutions and a greater peace of mind.