What to Do if Your Teenager is Cutting Themselves

Dec 14, 2022 | Adolescent Treatment, Depression, Helping a Loved One, Suicide

Understanding Teenagers and Self-Harm

Although everyone considers the teenage years to be carefree, teenagers struggle with a lot of difficulties. Along with the ever-increasing demands, and challenges of life, adolescence itself is a challenging period of human development. It involves the development of sexual and personal identity. Moreover, it entails the growing ability to self-analysis, abstract thinking, and understand and grasp the perspectives of others.

Self-harm or cutting is one of the disturbing acts of teenagers, not only for teens but for you as a parent, as well. Not every teenager goes through it, yet a surprising number does. Self-cutting may not be a part of the death wish of your teenager, but it can accidentally lead to death. Or there may be a possibility that a few cutting attempts can make them comfortable enough to attempt suicide in the future.

Recognize the Signs:

You have to be vigilant enough to recognize the signs, as it is not an easy task. Teenagers go to great lengths to hide it. If you see that your teenager insists on wearing pants or long sleeves even in summer, this may indicate that they are hiding something. Or if you find sharp objects such as a knife or a razor blade in their pocket this can also be a sign. Some other signs include staying in a bedroom with the door locked for a long time, especially after an argument or a stressful event. Some of the most common areas where teenagers cut themselves are the arms, legs, inner thighs, or stomach.

What You Can Do As a Parent

1.Understand the Causes:

It is, surely, challenging to understand why a teenager would cut themselves. However, understanding the cause behind it can lead to a better possible solution. Some individuals are more emotional than others. Lack of emotion regulation can result in self-cutting. Teenagers cut themselves to get relief from emotional stress, as it stimulates the pain-killing response of your body.

It can relieve feelings of stress, anxiety, or distress, but, of course, it is a maladaptive coping strategy. Moreover, your teenager may engage in cutting themselves to get your attention or affection. Or if your teen is struggling with difficulty managing thoughts and emotions, they may be using self-harm as a distraction.

Some teenagers engage in self-harm behavior to punish themselves for some wrongdoing or because they think of themselves as unworthy or worthless. Another possibility is that your teenager may be suffering from a serious mental health concern such as depression, substance abuse, or borderline personality disorder. In addition, some teenagers cut themselves because they have been traumatized by sexual abuse. In particular, teens that have been sexually abused often cut themselves on the inner thighs, breasts, or genital regions.

Once you educate yourself on the possible reasons behind self-inflicted injuries, then you will be able to handle the situation more effectively. Moreover, you will get to know how you can help your teenager in the best possible way.

2. Regulate Your Emotions:

No doubt it is very distressing to find out that your beloved child is cutting themselves. But how you react matters a lot. It is natural to feel scared, sad, confused, or even angry over the fact that your teen didn’t come to you when he/she was dealing with issues. Don’t overreact.

The problem is that when parents overreact, the child feels ashamed. And if your child is already cutting themselves out of shame, guilt, or punishment, this will make the situation worse. Therefore, take time to identify your emotions. And find ways to express those emotions properly.

However, if you are unable to calm yourself down or think of any possible solutions, talk to a therapist. The therapist will help you deal with your emotions and to find ways to help your teen.

3. Create a Safe Environment:

Try to create a safe and relaxing environment for your teenager. Consider their room or home, where they live, and do what makes them feel safe. Also, it is advisable to remove any sharp objects from the environment. Sharp objects can include jagged rocks, tiny screws, etc. Although it is not possible to remove each object, your teenager may receive it as a gesture of your care and concern. Or it will help delay self-harm.

Similarly, your teen may use cutting as a strategy to cope with a chaotic or stressful home environment. In such a case, it is your responsibility to think about the environment you and your children are living in, and how you communicate with each other. If there is abuse occurring, it is important to intervene to make sure that your child is safe.

4. Talk to Your Teenager:

Talking to your teenager might not be as difficult as it may seem now. And that is okay. Don’t put too much pressure on yourself. Be open and gentle during conversation and express your concern for them. Avoid criticizing, complaining, or emotionally blackmailing them as this can backfire. As mentioned above, shame and guilt can enhance self-cutting rather than reduce it.

Another crucial thing is to be patient and calm. Your teenager may hesitate to talk to you or downplay the communication. But you need to understand and try to ease their worries by listening to what your teen wants to share, without any judgment, and by asking questions gently.

Moreover, try to convey and make them understand that you are here to help them. Educate them about the condition and try to offer them a different perspective to see things. It would be helpful for your teen if you identify their issues with them. Individuals can become addicted to cutting. So one or two offers of your help may not suffice. You need to be patient. And make them feel that you will always be there for them.

5. Convince to Consult A Professional:

For serious issues like self-cutting, it is important to seek help from a qualified professional. As mentioned earlier, it is difficult to identify the root cause. Or the teenager may not be very comfortable discussing their issues with you. In such cases, getting help from a professional can be lifesaving.

A therapist can help the teenager to identify the underlying issues and help them find the right coping strategies. Moreover, the therapist will educate you about the problems your teen is facing and what you can do to help your teen. Even though it is essential to visit a therapist, your teen may not agree with this. Therefore, you must convince your teenager by telling them about the benefits and how it would help them deal with disturbing thoughts and emotions.

6. Be Positive:

What you think and how you behave matter much when you are trying to help a teen. You need to be patient and hopeful. Your optimism will build their confidence and offer them hope. Similarly, your teenager learns from you as well. So, be a better role model. Display better responses and ways to regulate emotions.

Similarly, notice when you criticize others or yourself. How you treat yourself also matters. If you see any negative patterns in your conversations and your behaviors, try to change them as well. This will help you create a better environment for your teen, also making them comfortable to approach you if they encounter any issues.

Try to build a better connection with your teen. Make plans together, go out and do something fun. You can also discuss different issues that bother you and how you manage them. Then you can ask your teen to describe their problems and then try to find different solutions together. Encourage your teenager to express their thoughts, feelings, accomplishments, or disappointments. There is a lot that you can do to make your teen comfortable with you, you just need to explore them.

7. Create a Risk-Management Plan:

You can help your teenager to create a risk-management plan for self-harm behaviors. Identify the triggers that cause your teen to indulge in self-cutting. Finding the triggers will help you and your teen to predict the behavior.

Once the particular thought or emotion that leads to the behavior is identified along with the situation, search for ways that can prevent self-harm. For instance, call a friend immediately, or go to your parents for help. Help your teen learn other strategies to manage emotions. Help them learn to delay the behavior until the impulse passes.

Be encouraging as a parent. Let them know that they are not alone.  Communicate with them often and let them know that they are loved. Give them hope and loving guidance.

New Dimensions Can Help!

If you or someone you know is experiencing any of the above symptoms or problems, New Dimensions can help. Our team of experienced therapists and psychiatrists can help you overcome these challenges and help you develop the skills you need to thrive. To schedule a complementary assessment or to find out more about our programs, contact us at 1-800-685-9796.

Our affiliate, MHThrive, provides Individual Therapy, Couples and Marriage Counseling, and Family Therapy at our locations in Katy, The Woodlands, and the Clear Lake area of Houston, Texas. We also provide telehealth therapy for anyone who resides within the State of Texas. To schedule an appointment with one of the MHThrive therapists, contact us at 713-477-0333 or visit www.mhthrive.com to learn more.