The World of Self Harming Adolescents
There is a major issue arising in homes and schools around the country; it has to do with kids of all ages who are destroying their minds and bodies through self harm; they are called self harming adolescents.
Self harming adolescents perform a behavior called “self-injury,” “self-mutilation,” or “self-harm.” This harmful coping mechanism manifests in ways such as cutting, scratching, burning, picking, hair removal, or hanging, though about 64% of self harming adolescents are labeled as “cutters.”
It seems that this behavior should have been resolved, but unfortunately parents, teachers, and medical professionals nationwide are still trying to get to the bottom of this destructive behavior as it is a disturbingly growing problem.
Why Does This Happen
When facing this issue there is one question that is at the forefront of the minds of most parents: “Why is my teen doing this?”
Though there is no definitive answer, there are several theories that may be a basis for understanding your teen and getting help. Most self harming adolescents describe their desire to injure themselves as the result of overwhelming feelings. These feelings can come from hormone imbalances, stresses at school or home, a failure of some sort, or relationship issues. Often, these children are depressed, overly anxious, fearful, angry, and have either completely numbed themselves to all feelings as a protective mechanism or are overly sensitive to their emotions.
The numbed group experiences depersonalization because they believe that they are not really living. They harm themselves in order to feel something instead of nothing. This harming provides a sense of release and realness that reminds them they are still alive. The other group is often described as “dramatic” and people are often surprised when they discover their harmful behavior. When this group decides to harm themselves, it is an act meant to help them de-stress and calm down. The flow of blood is relaxing and supposedly calms the anxiety.
Signs to Look For
When dealing with self harming adolescents you need to be careful that you do not make the situation worse by ignoring them or saying, “It is just a phase.” This ignorance may perpetuate the behavior, as any act of self harm is a cry for help. This is a subject that requires immediate attention when signs present themselves. Self harming adolescents will deny this behavior when in question because of the shame involved, so it is crucial to be informed and aware.
If your teen is wearing turtlenecks when it’s not cold outside, long sleeves all the time, spends large amounts of time hidden from others, begins to change the way they dress, their affect is significantly altered, and/or are highly secretive, then you should be concerned. You should also be alarmed if you find sharp objects such as razors in places they shouldn’t be, or you find accessories like ties and belts hanging in inappropriate places.
How to Get Help
Do not think you have to deal with a self harming adolescent on your own; there are numerous resources designed to help you. The most important thing to do is be supportive of you teen and their hope for recovery.
The best way to do this is to start dealing with your own feelings about the situation. You will be overwhelmed and feel a range of emotions including disappointment, failure, shock, sadness, or even anger, but you need to get to a place of acceptance of the reality of the situation and move forward to get your adolescent some help.
- The first step is to talk with your teen. Do not be surprised if they are resistant to this conversation.
- Seek help from school counselors or other mental health professionals. You must become knowledgeable about the subject in order to avoid assumptions. These professionals may be able to offer you information about recovery programs or counseling options.
- There are many websites and books dedicated to this serious issue. The American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry provides a great overview of the subject and contains a vast array of helpful resources.