Self-Harm Behaviors in Teenagers

Self-harm affects nearly one percent of people in the U.S. Teenagers are particularly susceptible to self-harm, with girls being four times more likely to self harm than boys. Over ten percent of teenagers are thought to have at least experimented with self-mutilation.

Common methods of self-harm include:

  • burning (often with a cigarette)
  • branding
  • biting
  • cutting
  • head banging
  • pulling at skin or hair
  • hitting
  • bruising
  • marking

Reasons Teenagers Use Self-Harm

Rather than indicating a suicidal tendency, self-harm and self-cutting, in particular, may be used as coping mechanisms. When feelings become too much to bear, teenagers may become introverted and consider or experiment with self-harming. Recent research finds that the two main emotions felt by those who self-harm are anger and anxiety.

Physically, self-harm is thought to release endorphins, which results in teenagers feeling a “high” immediately after cutting themselves. Self-harm is as common as eating disorders in teenagers.

Psychologically, many potential triggers can lead to self-harm:

  • low self-esteem
  • inability to control impulses
  • high levels of anxiety
  • apparent inability to cope with difficult situations
  • tendency to hide away in their own space for hours on end
  • underlying psychological conditions such as bipolar disorder or depression
  • a tendency towards hyper-sensitivity
  • feeling invisible or unaccepted by parents or peers

A Parent’s Role in Preventing Self-Harm Behavior in Teenagers

Recognize your own role in inadvertently encouraging your child to self-harm. Many teenagers are rushed and overscheduled by their parents; this lack of control over their own lives can cause feelings of anxiety, which may trigger self-harm.

  • Become knowledgeable on the issue of self-harm. Find out as much as possible on the subject. Understanding the condition will help you to understand your teen.
  • Spend time with your teenager. Numerous self-harmers suggest that feeling invisible to their parents was a major contributor to their self-mutilation.
  • Keep the lines of communication open with your teenager. Encourage them to discuss their problems, either with you or another adult if they prefer.
  • Consider enrolling your teenager in a skill-building group where he or she can learn to deal with overwhelming emotions in a non-destructive manner. Other coping strategies that can be practiced with your teenager include breathing exercises, journaling or counting to ten.

Above all, parents of teenagers who self-harm must ensure that they listen to their teen, reserve judgment and avoid issuing ultimatums.