Self Injury or “Cutting”

Lonely TeenagerThere is a fairly new phenomenon that kids refer to as “cutting”. Cutting is an act of purposefully hurting oneself or self injury. It is not a suicide attempt, but rather an unhealthy response to stress, emotional pain, frustration, or anger. Students tell me that it helps them feel better, like an emotional release. It is usually followed with guilt and shame. The most dangerous thing of cutting is that the person can truly hurt themselves accidentally. Girls are the most often cutters and one sign and symptom to watch for is the student will be wearing long sleeves or pants when the weather is warm or hot.

What should you do as a parent if you suspect your kid is cutting? I would always say pick the right time and place to talk about it. Try to keep the conversation direct, yet open. Ask to see the area and then try to not overreact, which can be very difficult. Usually the arms and legs are where the student will make shallow cuts with razor blade or knife. However, the abdomen or stomach area can also be a target. The student usually goes to the area they can access easily and hide easily. One student I worked with was cutting in the dangerous area of the groin. The thought that your child is doing this to themselves is almost more than a parent can stand, but be strong and firm that  you must seek help for this.

Cutting is usually done on impulse to feel better, not to upset the family or parent. It may be symptomatic of depression, eating disorders, or borderline personality disorder. However, it may simply be a student feeling very bad about themselves, their life or situation and attempting to feel better in an inappropriate, unhealthy way. Cutting may be treated with antidepressants and therapy with a counselor or psychologist. I tend to recommend a therapist that is the same gender as the student. The most important thing is to seek professional help and support your kid through this in a loving and nurturing manner.

If the thought of cutting is new to you, open up the dialog with your child tonight. See if they know kids who cut and what their peers say about cutting. Open communication with a teenager is the most important tool you have as a parent. Make yourself open to spend time and talk about this phenomenon with your kid soon!

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