Why My Teen is Self-Harming?

Nov 22, 2016

You’ve recently discovered that your son or daughter is engaging in self harm. You’re likely feeling confused, scared and saddened by this. As parents, it’s one of our primary roles to keep our children safe. When they’re young, we teach them to be careful using scissors and keep them away from knives to protect them from getting cut. It’s so confusing then to find out that your teen is intentionally hurting themselves.

An important thing to keep in mind is YOU ARE NOT ALONE. Per Mental Health America, 15% of teens reported self-harming, and between 17% - 35% of college students report the same.

Some examples of self-harming behaviors include:

  • Cutting yourself (most prevalent)
  • Burning yourself
  • Hitting yourself
  • Head banging

Individuals who engage in self harm are not typically doing so in a suicide attempt. Most often, these are individuals who are struggling with expressing themselves in emotionally healthy ways.

Some reasons individuals may self-harm include:

  • Seeking relief from negative feelings
  • Elicit a positive reaction from the “rush” of the cutting
  • Attempt to “feel something…. anything”
  • Nonverbal communication to others about how unhappy he/she is feeling

Self-injurious behaviors are to be taken seriously! Happy healthy individuals do not cut or burn themselves and even if your child is telling you “it’s normal” and “their friends do it too”, they still need your support and likely mental health intervention.

Some suggestions for reacting to learning your teen is self-harming:

  • Educate yourself- learn what it is and what it isn’t.
  • Confront your teen- in a kind and compassionate manner, talk with your son or daughter about the self-harm. Ask questions such as “why are you harming yourself”, “what does it feel like before / after your child self-harm”.
  • Seek professional evaluation- your teen should be evaluated by a qualified mental health professional to determine why they’re self-harming and what further treatment is indicated.
  • Continued support- as the parents you are the first line of defense against self-harm. Keep any sharp objects or lighters out of reach of your teen and keep the lines of communication open for he / she to talk with you if they need additional support. Many families also find it useful, in conjunction with a therapist, to fill out a “self-harm contract” which lists emergency phone numbers, strategies to try prior to self-harm and safe people to contact should the teen feel the urge to harm.

All parents need to proactively monitor what their children are doing online. Consider installing a parental control software the will send alerts when your child has tried to visit a website about self-harming. Reports on web browsing history can be early clues that your child may be considering self-harming.