Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Sue Scheff: Teen Cutting and Self-Injury

After reading this article, I had to share it. Cutting and self-injury is a very serious concern for parents. If you suspect your child is cutting - please get help immediately. If you recognize warning signs in a friend of your child’s, find a way to tell the parents. We, as parents, need to keep informed. Parents helping parents gives us knowledge and the ability to help our children. My website on Teens and Self Injury has more information.

By Richard Hills

Contributor for

A few weeks ago, I was hanging out with my daughter and some of her friends. On one of her friends I noticed that both her arms were all scratched up like she’d been in a cat fight. The problem was there were far too many of them, they did not look to have been from one instance (in other words done at the same time, because of various levels of healing), and they were too regular in direction and severity.

It came out the young lady (of age 12) was cutting. When asked why she was cutting, her response was “I don’t know”. I asked her if she knew of anyone else that cut, and she said, “Oh yeah; lots of girls. One of my friends even tries to get other girls to cut because it helps”. “Helps with what?” I asked. “Helps to make you feel better” was the response.

I have been aware of self harm for some time now, but was never personally exposed to it so close, so I decide to check it out a bit and ask some questions. There does seem to be a ‘trend’ of this sort of behavior starting in middle school and high school teens. They are mostly girls that cut, but the number of boys is growing very fast. reports that one out of every five teens self harm in some way. Self harm spans across the board – from troubled homes in the projects to the up-scale homes of Clayton and Blackhawk.

Self harm (cutting) is generally outgrown, but not always. I’ve spoken to some women in their thirties that still cut today. The general reason for cutting is that it helps cope with difficult emotions. On some psychological level, cutting seems to be a release for those that self harm; the physical pain becomes a substitute for the emotional pain. The problem is that it is temporary and as such very addictive behavior – much like escaping into a glass of alcohol or popping a pill. If you think you can keep knives or razors away from a teen, guess again - The girl I know used a blade removed from a pencil sharpener.

There does seem to be a trend of self harm in our teens. If you are seen as the personality type “Emo,” cutting is an almost expected behavior. This girl I was speaking with gave me the impression that she really didn’t know why she was doing it, but was curious more than anything else. Once her cutting was discovered (cutters tend to hide their scars), she stopped as far as the information I’ve received from her parents.

Even if the issue is trendy there is still a problem. To self harm because they are told it will help them feel better is a curiosity that needs to be seriously addressed. Someone must feel pretty bad if they are willing to cut open their skin and bleed to feel better. Help must be sought and given to cutters, not only to stop the cutting, but to ease the underlying, emotional pain. Troubled Teen has a number of very good points on how to spot and help a cutter; key to all the advice given however is to remain as non-judgmental as possible and communicate openly.

Cutting is a serious problem with our teens, but it can be overcome with our communication, patience and most of all LOVE.

Richard Hills is an Examiner from San Francisco. You can see Richard’s articles on Richard’s Home Page