No parent wants to find out that their teen is engaging in self-harm. Unfortunately, in recent years, the number of teens who self-harm—particularly cutting—has risen.
There can be many reasons why a teen may engage in self-harm, from emotional turmoil to a form of taking control. If you are looking to help your teen break free of their self-harm habit, it is important that you know why your teen may be self-harming and what you can do to help them stop.
Why Teens May Turn To Self-Harm
While self-harm can result in an accidental death, in general, teens do not self-harm with the intent to end their lives. This lack of intent can lead some parents to dismiss self-harm as attention-seeking behavior.
Yet, if teens are willing to hurt themselves for attention, doesn’t that indicate that there is something seriously wrong?
Other reasons why teens may engage in self-harm are:
Lack of control – Teens who feel like their lives are out of their control may resort to self-harm to regain a sense of control. Often, over-scheduled teens or ones who had to relocate due to circumstances outside of their control may turn to this form of self-harm.
Poor coping methods – The teenage years are times of high stress and expectation, especially as teens come closer to adulthood. Some teens may attempt to cope with the feeling of stress by engaging in self-harm to physically release the internal pressure they feel. Cutting and other types of self-harm can also be ways to cope with other life stressors, such as a breakup or death of a loved one.
Impulse – As the teenage brain is not yet fully developed, they are more inclined to impulsive actions. So, while an adult may consider other options when it comes to managing stress, emotions, and other issues, a teen may impulsively engage in self-harm without considering the consequences.
Depression and anxiety – When struggling with mental health issues such as depression and anxiety, teens may turn to cutting and other forms of self-harm. Teens may use self-harm to break through the emotional numbness of depression and help halt spiraling feelings of low self-esteem that anxiety can induce.
Perfectionism – Teens who struggle with perfectionism often turn to self-harm as a form of relief from the perfect facade they present. However, it can also be a form of self-inflicted punishment for their perceived or real flaws.
Copycat, online encouragement – Unfortunately, some teens turn to self-harm because they are copying others. In fact, there is now a whole internet subculture that revolves around self-harm. Some offer support for recovery, but other sites, social media groups, and more will encourage each other to engage in self-harm.
There are other reasons why teens may engage in self-harm, and most of them revolve around the fact that the teen’s mental health has seriously deteriorated.
Self-Harm Can Be More Than Cutting
One of the important things to recognize when it comes to teens self-harming is that there is more to it than just cutting. While cutting is one of the most common forms of self-harm, there are other types of self-harm that parents should watch out for, such as:
- Burning their skin
- Picking and scratching at the skin
- Pulling out hairs
- Wound irritation to stop healing
- Non-lethal pill or poison doses
- Risky sexual behavior
Not all of these types of self-harm are as visible as cutting, which means it is critical that you know the signs that your teen is self-harming.
Signs That Your Teen Is Engaging In Self-Harm
There are various signs you can look for if you suspect that your teen is engaging in self-harm, with some of the most common being:
- Isolating themselves from everyone
- Frequent unexplained injuries
- Wearing long, covering clothes in all weather
- Injuries that don’t heal
- Avoids social activities and drops hobbies
- Gathers sharp items
- Talks about self-harm
Ways You Can Help Your Self-Harming Teen
Teens who are self-harming need immediate assistance. What your particular teen may need can vary, but some of the ways you can help are:
Talk to your teen – Talking with your teen about why they are self-harming is an essential part of their recovery. However, the way you approach your teen will make a huge difference in how willing your teen is to talk to you. While you naturally may feel upset, scared, and maybe even angry with your teen, taking the wrong approach your teen can increase their feelings of guilt and shame when it comes to self-harm, which can feed into the self-harm spiral.
Instead, take the time you need to center yourself so that you can talk to your teen without judgment and with compassion. Your teen may try to blame you for their self-harm, especially because teens often feel ashamed of being discovered self-harming. Do your best to ask them open-ended questions about why your teen engages in self-harm, when the behavior started, the extent of their injuries, and so forth.
Find professional help – To help your teen overcome self-harm, professional intervention is needed. As self-harm is generally considered a maladaptive coping method, a therapist who specializes in cognitive behavioral therapy can help your teen break their self-harm habit and learn better coping methods.
Should there be other underlying mental health issues which prompted the self-harm, your teen may need talk therapy along with medication. With the medication, the sharp edges of your teen’s distress can be eased while the meat of the issue is addressed in therapy. If the self-harm escalates to suicide attempts, inpatient treatment may be necessary.
Help provide support – Your support is essential for your teen’s recovery. They will need your support at home and in other spheres, such as at school and with extracurriculars. Other ways you can support your teen are:
- Validate your teen’s feelings and encourage communication.
- Create time to connect with your teen.
- Help them stick to a healthy exercise routine.
- Work with your teen to find better outlets such as drawing, journaling, exercise, etc.
- Contact school administration to secure accommodations for your teen.
- Remain patient with your teen as they work through their self-harm urges.
Consider immersive therapy – Should your teen need more immersive therapeutic help, a therapeutic boarding school can be an excellent option. In the supportive environment of one of these schools, your teen can receive a personalized care plan that helps shape their entire stay. From their academic work and health care to their therapy, your teen can learn, heal, and grow in a supportive environment.
With your help and support, your struggling teen stands a far greater chance at breaking free from their self-harming habit.