Imagine your teen so unable to cope with strong, deep-rooted anger, sadness, or depression that he or she resorts to self injury or “cutting.” A recent study by the New York State Psychiatric Institute estimated that between 13 and 23 percent of high school kids participate in this act of self-injury (SI). When one of my students confided in me that her sister was doing this, I could not fully understand why a beautiful young woman would take a pair of cuticle scissors and slice at her arms and tummy. As it turns out, teens that do this don’t have a healthy coping mechanism to deal with stress or painful emotions. The physical pain caused by the cutting interrupts or calms the teen’s feelings of pressure and acts as a relief mechanism. This actually makes the child addicted to the behavior and the SI difficult to stop without parental and professional help. In fact, when I contacted the young woman's mother I learned this was an ongoing crisis for her daughter. This impulse was triggered when her boyfriend broke up with her about a month before the prom.
While some teens report being able to stop on their own, most need intervention from parents and professional help to break free of this powerful habit. Usually, the child is too embarrassed or ashamed to ask for help. It may be that this problem doesn’t even come to light until the child accidentally cuts too deep and winds up in the emergency room. Other times, the parent learns of it from a concerned friend or sibling. According to the education and support site, http://self-injury.net/, if you discover or suspect your teen is a self-injurer, avoid criticizing or threatening to get your child to stop. Instead, encourage her to talk about when she does it and why. If the adolescent is encouraged to talk about the emotional pain, then she will be less likely to express it through physical suffering.
Professional treatment may also be necessary to end self-harm. A psychologist or psychiatrist with experience dealing with SI can help get to the cause of the teen’s personal issues. Behavioral, group, or family therapy may also be suggested, especially if the emotions stem from family problems. It is important to remember that cutting is an indicator of deep-rooted emotional concerns. Calm guidance and support from family members, health care professionals, and teachers or other trusted adults will allow the cutter to manage emotional pain and pressure in a healthier manner.
Reviewed May 24, 2011
Edited by Alison Stanton