Editor’s Note: This article was written by Dylan Broggio, LCSW, EWN psychotherapist, quite a few years ago. “What To Do If Your Teen Is Cutting” is one of the most viewed articles on the Explore What’s Next blog. We knew this topic was important; what surprised us were the comments by readers who found recognition, validation and hope in Dylan’s article.
In the next week EWN will revisit the subject of cutting, first by presenting the original article once again. Then, in the next few days, EWN will post a new article by Dylan where she addresses the most pertinent comments to the first post. A few days after that you will see another new article by Kate Maleski, LCSW, Group Leader of the “Girls Take Charge” group, this time directed to teens.
If you find this series helpful in any way please leave a comment (the comment button to the right, just below the title line) and share it with anyone you know who may be struggling with this issue.
Finding out that someone you love is cutting themselves is very painful, shocking, information to hear. Being armed with information and a game plan can make all the difference in getting your loved one help. What is cutting? Cutting is when someone purposefully injures themselves, but is not trying to committing suicide. Essentially, cutting is a way to deal with pain. Teens and young adults report they cut in order to cope with or relieve emotional pain, or to “feel something” when all they feel is numb. Marks or cuts are typically kept well hidden so that they can continue this way of coping with their emotions.
14% of teens report engaging in self injurious behavior
64% of those teens are girls. (Ross and Heath, 2002)
If you suspect your teen is cutting here are some warning signs:
- Cut, scratch, or burn marks on arms, legs, abdomen, etc. They can be anywhere on the body, but are usually in places that can be well hidden.
- Finding sharp objects (knives, razors, safety pins/needles, tacks, broken glass) in your child’s room or belongings.
- Your child’s friends are cutting themselves is a reason to be concerned.
- Your teen wears long pants or shirts consistently, even on warm days, as this conceals the evidence.
- Often insists that she be left alone and private when upset or depressed.
Here is what you can do to help your teen:
- Take your child to the hospital if injury is bleeding significantly or requires stitches. Otherwise a call or trip to their pediatrician is a good idea.
- Connect with a mental health professional who is qualified and specifically trained in treating self-injury. Be sure to ask.If they are not experienced with this, they should have no problem referring you to someone who is.
- Listen. Listen. And listen some more. As hard as it is, hear what your child has to say.
- Let your child know you love them, and that you are there for them.
- Participate in your child’s treatment. Often support from family and family counseling are necessary for a successful recovery.
Parents, it is important NOT to freak out. Despite how you’re feeling, try to keep your cool. Yelling, demanding they stop, will NOT help the situation. They are not doing this to make you mad, or to be spiteful. Your child is in pain and doesn’t know how to deal with it. Take a deep breath and express to your child that you will do what it takes to get them help…