Cutting is an increasingly popular behavior among teens—and it doesn't mean skipping classes, anymore. Cutting, with a paper clip, scissors, pen or other sharp object on the skin, is just one of a number of self-injurious behaviors that kids use to hurt themselves.
So, why would kids purposefully cut themselves? The most common reason is control of emotions, according to Lader. “For kids experiencing intense emotions, it can be used to deaden the intensity. For those feeling a sense of numbness, it serves the opposite effect, helping them feel something,” Lader says.
So, how should you react? Here's some advice from the experts:
- Communication is key. “Listen. Speak calmly, without judging, while expressing your love and concern,” Lader says. “Don’t try to offer your opinion or fix the problem. The goal is to foster open communication,”
- Ask the right questions. Bowman says parents should use “what” and “how” questions, like “What makes you want to hurt yourself?”
- Positive attention is a valuable part of the healing process. “Kids need attention when they are using positive coping skills and talking about their problems,” Bowman says.
- Consider therapy. “A therapist can help determine if the child is experiencing some underlying issue that they don’t know how to identify or talk about,” says Lader. If you aren't sure how to choose a therapist, the school counselor might be a good place to start. Bowman also advises looking for someone experienced in adolescent issues, and specifically self-injury. “A combination of therapy techniques, such as cognitive, behavioral and creative arts therapy usually works best,” Bowman says.
Self-injury is a cry for help. Kids engaging in these behaviors desperately need parents to provide understanding and a willingness to listen.