Why Does My Teen Cut?
More and more teens, particularly girls, are cutting or otherwise harming themselves and understandably, this behavior is very frightening and concerning to most parents. Teens might talk about their self-harming behavior with peers, but often their parents are the last to find out. Self-injurious behavior can be difficult to understand and is experienced as deeply shocking by most parents.
A major study in the United Kingdom of nearly 1,000 individuals who self-harmed found that the most common method of self-injuring behavior was cutting or scratching (93%), followed by burning the skin (28%) and the most frequently harmed body parts were arms (83%), followed by legs, most commonly thighs (50%).
Alarmingly, cutting and other self-harming behavior, appears to be “contagious”. Many teens who are experiencing emotional pain, often hear about cutting from peers or the internet, and try it for themselves. And although once considered shameful and secretive, self-harming is now often idealized on you-tube videos and on on-line forums and glamorized by teens because they may have heard that stars like Miley Cyrus, Demi Lovato, Angelina Jolie and Lindsay Lohan are allegedly cutters.
Self-harm is a behavior that is typically distinct from suicide and cutting or otherwise self-injuring in order to experience pain, is not usually intended as a suicide attempt. Although teens that cut themselves may feel suicidal when they self-harm, their intention is to cut in order to regulate or release intense emotions rather than to die. The need for self-punishment and self-loathing were the most common reasons cited for self-harming and the U.K. self-injury study found that:
- 55% of participants reported experiencing self-hate prior to harming
- 43% of participants reported self-hate being a reason for self-harm
- 45% of participants reported that they self-harmed in order to punish themselves
What To Do When Your Teen Is Cutting
- Respond when you’re calm instead of reacting when you’re upset.
- Let your teen know that you’re concerned and that you want to help.
- Focus on what’s causing the self-harming, not on the self-harming behavior itself.
- Try not to blame yourself.
- If your teen is communicating suicidal threat or ideation, seek medical help immediately at your nearest emergency room, or call 911.
Cutting and other self-harming behavior is a sign that your teen is struggling emotionally. Because the body reacts to the pain that is produced by cutting by releasing endorphins and is coupled with powerful emotions and symbolism, self-harming can become an addictive habit and an unhealthy coping mechanism. If cutting has become your teen’s coping strategy, it is typically not realistic to expect complete, immediate abstinence from the behavior without helping your teen to build new coping strategies so that she can learn to deal with intense emotions and replace self-injury behaviors with healthier alternatives.
Self-harming is an outward manifestation of inner pain. Your teen may need the guidance and support of a therapist to overcome the cutting habit. A therapist can help your teen to challenge and change the negative thoughts that lead to self-harming, develop new coping skills and help your teen get to the root of why she is hurting herself.
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Related Blog Post: Is This Normal Teen Behavior?