Friday, February 24, 2006

Self Injury (Cutting) in Adolescents and Teens - By Dore Frances

Some forms may include:

  • biting
  • branding, such as with gang members
  • burning
  • carving
  • cutting on various parts of the body
  • excessive body piercing
  • head banging
  • marking
  • picking and pulling hair and skin
  • scratching with fingernails or objects
  • self bruising
  • self hitting
  • self piercing
  • tattooing

  • Some adolescents and teens may self-mutilate to rebel, reject their parents' values, take risks, state their individuality or merely to be accepted by their peers. Others, however, may injure themselves out of anger or desperation to seek attention, to show their hopelessness, loss of self-esteem and worthlessness, or because they have suicidal thoughts. These children may suffer from serious psychiatric problems such as Bipolar Disorder, depression, mood disorders, Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), Reactive Attachment Disorder (RAD), and psychosis. Additionally, some adolescents and teens who engage in self-injury may develop Borderline Personality Disorder as adults when not treated for this as youth. Some young children may resort to self-injurious acts from time to time, however, they often grow out of it.

    Children with autism or mental retardation may also show these behaviors which may persist into adulthood when not treated at a younger age. Children who have been abandoned (adopted) or abused (emotinally, physically, sexually) may self-mutilate.

    Why do adolescents and teens self-injure?

    Adolescents and teens that have difficulty talking about and openly sharing their feelings may show their emotional tension, low self-esteem, physical discomfort, and pain with self-injurious behaviors. Although they may feel like the "steam" in the "pressure cooker" has been released following the act of cutting and hurting themselves, adolescents and teens may instead feel intense anger, fear, hate and hurt. The effects of peer pressure can also influence adolescents and teens to injure themselves. Even though fads come and go, a lot of the wounds on the child's' skin will be permanent. A lot of times adolescents and teens hide their burns, bruises, cuts and scars, due to feeling criticized, embarrassed, or rejected.

    What can parents do to help their child?

    Parents are encouraged to talk with their children about respecting and valuing their bodies. Parents also need to serve as role models for their adolescents and teens by not engaging in acts of self-harm themselves.

    Some helpful ways for parents to address their child's self-injury acts include teaching them to:

  • Accept reality and find ways to make the present moment more tolerable while talking about their feelings.
  • Develop better communication and social skills.
  • Help them distract themselves from feelings of self-harm (for example, counting to ten, drawing, waiting 15 minutes, saying "NO!" or "STOP!" out loud and to themselves as may times as needed, practicing breathing exercises and/or meditation, journaling, thinking about positive images, giving them a safe place to "vent", etc.)
  • Help them to identify their feelings and talk them out rather than act on them.
  • Practice positive stress management within the home.
  • Help them to soothe themselves in a positive, non-injurious, way.
  • Help them to stop, think, and evaluate the pros and cons of self-injury.

  • Evaluation by a mental health professional may assist in identifying and treating the underlying causes of cutting and self-injury. Feelings of wanting to die or kill themselves are reasons for the parents of adolescents and teens to seek professional care immediately.

    A psychiatrist may also diagnose and treat the serious psychiatric disorders that may accompany self-injurious and cutting behaviors.

    Dore E. Frances, Child Right's Advocate & Educational Consultant

    Copyright © 1999, Horizon Family Solutions, LLC

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