While many teens participate in cutting and other self-harm behaviors in order to block out negative emotions, some are particularly at risk. Teens who are on the fringes – engaging in sexual activity early or using alcohol & illegal drugs at young ages – are especially prone to cutting. In addition, girls are more likely to self-harm than boys, and those most at-risk were between the ages of 14 and 19.
While the incidence and likelihood of self-harm decreases as a person ages, the emotional difficulties of self-harmers often go unnoticed by parents, teachers, and other adults. But it doesn’t have to be that way.
A Positive Social Network Is Key To Prevention
Studies show that positive, pro-active communication and social involvement can help guard against its allure. Young people who have positive family and peer relationships and involvement in their local communities and schools are less likely to participate in cutting or other related behaviors. The more you can do to prevent your teen from becoming isolated from others, the better his or her chances will be at avoiding self-harm behaviors altogether or getting help if he or she engages in cutting.
As important as counsel is, accountability with family and friends is also a key element to responding to self-harm. Having such relationships in place before a problem surfaces is more important than we can even explain.
An Understanding Counselor or Mentor Can Help
Your teen doesn’t necessarily need a professional counselor to help overcome cutting. What he or she needs most is someone who cares and understands, someone who will be there for them for the long haul, intervening when needed, but loving them through it all. The best person to help a cutter is someone who can ask questions to get at the logic, habits, and thinking patterns that have led the teen to consider or be drawn to cutting.
Each person and situation is different (learn about the different types of cutters), but former cutters or those who have experience in dealing with self-harm issues will be better able to connect with your child about this issue than those who have no background with cutting.
Initial Intervention May Be Needed
First things first: If your child has a cut, no matter how it has occurred, he or she needs medical attention. If you suspect that your child’s cut or burn has been self-inflicted, don’t be afraid to ask. Do so calmly, and come at it from different angles, but make sure to get your teen talking.
If your teen won’t talk to you, find someone with whom he or she is willing to talk. You may need to seek out counsel on your own about how to proceed in a way that will force the issue.
If you suspect that your teen is at risk of suicide, don’t wait until you find the perfect counselor; have your teen supervised around the clock or checked into the hospital if necessary. You don’t want to wish you would have taken such steps.