Parenting difficult teenagers is challenging, however the trend of teens cutting themselves and self-harming behavior has been increasing over the years. It’s very concerning not only to parents, but to mental health professionals.
Although self-harm is more common among girls, boys have been known to self-injure themselves too. Cutting typically starts around the age of 12-14. Psychologists believe that the main reason people self-injure is to try to regulate their emotions. Some teens who self-harm describe themselves has being overachievers and some are impulsive.
Since 2020 adolescent depression and anxiety has doubled, leaving our teens stressed out while unable to manage their emotions. Researchers point to the increased usage of social media as part of the cause for the rise in depression which also leads to disrupted sleep patterns and less sleep.
With the increase of screen-time comes the risks of cyberbullying and online humiliation. Next doubt the effects of digital cruelty on an adolescent’s wellbeing. Research has shown that teens who have been cyberbullied are over twice as likely to self-harm than others.
3 Ways to Help Your Teen to Stop Cutting
1. Safety is the priority.
Once you’ve realized your teen is engaging in cutting, burning or any type of self-harm, it’s critical to be sure they are safe both physically and emotionally. Teenagers can be reluctant to go to therapy, however it’s imperative you calmly persuade them. If they still refuse, ask a friend or relative they respect, to intervene. Hopefully they will be able to convince them to seek professional help.
Start doing an inventory of your teen’s bedroom, bathroom as well as the home. It’s wise to remove as many sharp objects as possible — including eyebrow tweezers, paper-clips, even tiny screws that could be around. It will be impossible to remove everything from the home, but it’s necessary so you communicate you are fully committed to the healing process of helping your teen stop self-harming.
2. Communicate with empathy.
As a parent that just learned your teenager is self-harming, it’s frightening. You are likely scared and this can cause you to overreact making your teen feel worse than they already do – even ashamed inadvertently. Many parents assume their child is going to take the “next step” and commit suicide. It’s important to know that self-harm doesn’t always lead to suicidal behavior.
It’s best to avoid reacting with anger or threats. Saying that your teen is just doing it for attention won’t help either. Most self-harm isn’t about getting attention.
You can ask your teen some questions about the self-harm, bearing in mind that people who self-harm might feel ashamed about it. You might say something like, ‘I can see that you’re very upset. You can talk to me about this. I won’t get angry at you’.
That’s why it’s important to stay calm, not judge and listen silently without interrupting and with compassion and empathy.
The truth is, your teen is emotionally hurting — they are using the self-harm as a cry for help.
3. Help your teen replace self-harm with other activities.
Most teens self-harm due to anxiety, stress, anxiousness — it’s a way to release pain and emotions they are unable to manage. Much of teen self-harm stems from depression and other forms of low self-worth.
Give your teen options to replace the self-harm with different activities:
- Take a hot bath, shower — especially with scented soaps
- Painting, art therapy
- Yoga, breathing, meditation
- Boxing, dance, listening to music
- Walking, jogging
- Journaling, creative writing
- Animals, taking care of a pet
- Cooking, baking
- Sports, school clubs
- Church activities, youth group
Support for your teen includes:
- Be sure they have a friend, family member, therapist or crisis line available if they feel the urge to self-harm.
- Give them permission to go outside and yell and scream if they at having a meltdown, rather than cut.
- Tell your teen it’s okay to be sad and even cry. Allow them to cry — it can make them feel better.
- Have your teen make a list of reasons why they are going to stop cutting (self-harming).
- Have your teen write the phone number of their friend on their wrist.
First and foremost is keeping the home safe and getting your teen with a therapist that can help her/him figure what triggers them to self-harm. In addition to outside counseling — is establishing a healthy, affirming relationship with your teenager — so they know they can come to you when they feel they are in crisis, without judgement.
Finally putting a support system in place as well as alternative options to keep your teen occupied in a positive direction will help reduce the chances of them cutting or self-harming.
If you’re not seeing the improvements you’d like to see in your teen’s self-harm behaviors, or if you think they needs more intense care, contact us for a free consultation to find out how a therapeutic boarding school can help.