As Boys Town counselors, we deal with the issue of self-harm on an almost daily basis. In result, we gain a unique insight into why teens engage in an activity that seems so unfathomable to parents.
The following are actual statements made by teens whom at one point in their lives, engaged in self-harm:
“Why sit, and wait, and dwell on your feelings, when in less than two minutes you could let them out, and then go on with your day?”
“I’m worried that my parents will be extremely disappointed in me if they find out.”
“I have cut in the past; I don’t regret it at all. I feel like I deserved it and am happy I did it, it helped distract me from my thoughts.”
“I am not trying to kill myself but if something were to happen to me I wouldn’t care.”
“I just don’t want anyone to be upset or mad, I want to handle this on my own—that’s why I cut.”
“I don’t want to go to my mom because she freaks out over everything and she’s always busy with my sister.”
“I know that it won’t solve anything, but why not a few more cuts to make me temporarily feel better?”
As you can see, self-harm is not as simple as you may think. Teens who engage in cutting or other similar activities often find ways to rationalize their actions, even though they seem unimaginable to us. And many want to stop.
Unfortunately, there are no easy fixes. Some teens are able to kick the habit by learning better coping skills and sharing their feelings with supportive people in their life. Others may need professional therapeutic care to help them work through their emotional crisis. Either way, friends and family can help the teen by listening with the intent to understand, rather than trying to “fix” problems for them.
As mentioned earlier, teens that engage in self-harm often want to stop. The trouble is, they simply don’t know who to talk to. For example, Listen to the inner struggle of this self-harming teen :
“I really, really want to tell someone, because I know that I need help … But I don’t want my parents to know. I don’t want my school to know. I don’t want to get in trouble. I just want support and help.”
Help can only come when the parents recognize that it’s necessary in the first place. The first step is to know whether or not your teen is engaging in self-harm. Typical forms of self-harm include cutting, scratching, burning, picking at wounds, and hitting or punching objects. Red flags include:
- Unexplained wounds or scars from cuts, bruises, or burns, usually on the wrists, arms, thighs, or chest.
- Blood stains on clothing, towels, or bedding; blood-soaked tissues.
- Sharp objects or cutting instruments, such as razors, knives, needles, in the person’s belongings.
- Covering up. A person who self-injures may insist on wearing long sleeves or long pants, even in hot weather.
- Wanting to be alone for long periods of time, especially in the bedroom or bathroom.
- Isolation and irritability.
So keep your eyes open. Talk to your teen. Be aware of any suspicious activities or symptoms. Let them know that you love them and are here for them whenever they need you.
If you’re ever in doubt, call the trained counselors at the Boys Town National Hotline, 1-800-448-3000. We are here around-the-clock.