March is Self-Harm Awareness Month. Approximately one in eight people engages in some form of self-harm behavior, and the problem currently is more widespread than it has been for decades.
Fortunately, I have not had any direct exposure to or first-hand experience with self-harm. I never had a friend in school who hurt himself or herself and I don’t have friends with kids who have hurt themselves, so it’s something that is fairly foreign to me. However, I do have two young children and self-harm is something that concerns me as they get older.
The scary thing about self-harm is that kids can hide it pretty easily. As kids get older, they want more privacy and they spend more time away from parents. If they are hurting themselves, they may so things like cut themselves in places that are usually covered by clothing or wear long-sleeved shirts. But while the physical evidence of self-harm can often be concealed, there are other signs parents can watch for, including:
- Secretive or elusive behavior
- Spending a lot of time alone
- Unexplained marks on the body
- Wearing thick wristbands that are never removed
I recently learned that self-harm and cutting usually aren’t a suicide attempt. Typically, people intentionally injure themselves as a way to cope with other crises in their lives. Kids and teens, who have even fewer coping mechanisms than adults, must be taught better ways to deal with situations that might be stressful or seem overwhelming.
At Boys Town, we have a lot of experience addressing self-harm behaviors and the reasons kids resort to them. If you or someone you know would like more information about self-harm and how to address it, the following resources can be especially helpful:
- Understanding Teen Cutting and Self-Harm
- How Self-Harm Affects an Entire Family
- Recognizing When Your Child Is Distressed
Boys Town also has a toll-free National Hotline that answers calls 24/7 if you or your child needs to talk to a counselor; just call 1-800-448-3000. You also can find direct advice from Hotline counselors on this issue.
Life can hurt sometimes. But that doesn’t mean kids have to hurt themselves to cope.