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The Rise of Self-harming

Ask any teacher or adolescent counselor what the most disturbing trend they are seeing in teens today is, and they are likely to tell you it’s the growing number of “cutters”.

By cutters, they mean people who hurt themselves or “self-injure” a term that is more encompassing of the many types of behaviors that are actually involved. Whatever the form of self-injury, cutting, burning, biting or any of many other similar behaviors, teens hurting themselves in an attempt to deal with emotional pain is on the rise.

Today it is thought that 1% of youth in America are engaging in self-harming behavior. And, while both males and females are self-harming, girls are four times more likely to self-harm than boys. This behavior, which has been around forever, but was noted only rarely in the past, is running
through peer-groups like a infectious disease; striking fear into the hearts of many parents. Parents often do not know what to make the behavior in their children

What causes a person to engage in self-harm is as varied as the number of people hurting themselves. One cutter that may express the sentiments of many put it this way," I cannot adequately describe in words my emotional state prior
to a cutting. The feelings are overwhelming–usually severe feelings of rejection, self-hatred or anger. Cutting presents a way to make the pain show (and be felt) on the *outside* where I can deal with it.” Frequently, as this person points out, self-harm is a coping strategy for dealing with emotional pain that has become intolerable.

Self-harm is not necessarily an attempt at suicide. Though one study found that half of students who engage in the behavior express thoughts of suicide, many professionals see the behavior as a maladaptive coping skill used to keep the person alive. Some would say that the longer the person engages in self-harming acts the less likely that they are attempts at suicide. Self-injury is nonetheless a dangerous behavior and one that can lead to unintentional death.

Identifying the person who is harming them self, may not always be easy. Frequently, the person cuts on areas that cannot be easily seen by others. They may wear long sleeve shirts and pants to cover up the scars. Some characteristics of people who are at risk for cutting include:

Low self-esteem extreme sensitivity to rejection high levels of anger suppress emotions impulsive depressed suffer chronic anxiety have been abused.

Many people who engage in self-harming do get better. There are a handful of inpatient programs around the country and an increasing number of therapists and programs treating self-harm on an outpatient basis. If your child is hurting her or himself, seek help.

© 2005, David Westbrook

David Westbrook is a freelance writer and the host of http://www.troubledteenresources.net/ a resource guide for parents.

It’s sometimes difficult to find ways to be involved with your teen without totally intruding in his/her life. You want to talk to them, they don’t want to talk to you (most of the time anyway). I’ve found the best way to connect with my teenage daughter is to enter her world and do the things she likes to do. There’s a saying that if you want to understand your child’s world you have to play with them, no matter how old they are.

You don’t always have to be even directly interacting with your teen in order to be involved in their world. Just being around the same influences they are, and taking an interest in their activities, lets them know that you care and that you understand what they deal with from day to day. Then later, at home, you can talk about the things you have experienced together. It’s a great way to connect. Here are some ways my teenage daughter and I have spent time together:

  • My daughter was involved in a music group that did a lot of fundraising that required a lot of involvement by the parents. At first I was really resistant to the time involved, but I soon realized how much fun it was to hang out with my daughter and the other teens and their parents.

  • School activities are another great way to be involved in your child’s life, at any age. When they’re younger there’s field trips, class parties, etc., you can be involved with, but when they get older there are activities like school plays that parents are a very important part of. I’ve helped sell tickets, worked at the bake sale…where I didn’t even spend time with my daughter at all, but it meant a lot to her that I was there supporting her.

  • Attending sporting events is also important to your child. When they get older it seems like they don’t really care if you’re there or not, but it is important to them even if they don’t say so. It makes them feel like you care about what they do.

  • Helping my daughter with school projects has been a great way for us to spend time together. She gets to do the hard part of doing all the research and writing, and then I do the fun part of helping her put it all together in the end. Even with older teens, most of them don’t particularly enjoy doing all this work by themselves, even if you know they’re completely capable of it. I don’t do the work for her, just help her by giving her feedback on her ideas and giving her a hand. Often beforehand even I will go to the library with her and help her sort through reference materials. I know it means a lot to her, especially when she’s doing a huge project and is completely overwhelmed.

  • Another way I’ve been involved with my daughter is to be a youth leader in her church youth group. Again, I am not actually spending time with her there most of the time, but I am experiencing the same things she’s experiencing and it’s giving us something in common that we can both relate to and discuss. Those times together have been very meaningful.

As you can see, not all of these activities involve me actually talking to and hanging out with my daughter. You know as well as I do that our teens don’t always want us hanging around them. I’m happy for the time I do get to spend with my daughter, for the little time I have left with her. When we have things in common my daughter is much more likely to talk to me and share her feelings with me. When I don’t know what she experiences, it is very hard for me to relate what she is going through. These shared experiences have opened up many more opportunities for us to share and connect that we wouldn’t otherwise have.

About The Author

Rachel Paxton is a freelance writer and mom of four. For more
inspirational articles and tips for everyday living, visit her
web sites at http://www.creativehomemaking.com and
http://www.christian-parent.com