It can be very traumatizing or disturbing to walk in on your child harming themselves. It can be just as traumatizing for your teenager that was just caught. Been there, done that.
First, don’t panic. They’re most likely not trying to kill themselves. It’s actually been reported that close to half of all teenagers will intentionally hurt themselves between the ages of 15-19; you’re not alone. Cutting, along with other mental disorders, has been steadily increasing with the advent of the internet, Facebook, and other group-like forums where anyone can hide behind their anonymity and talk freely about the gory details.
There are many reasons they could exhibiting these behaviors. If you’re reading this, it might be too late for the little bit of advice: it’s typically best to not react right away. If you can, try to pretend you didn’t notice them cutting until you have time to process what you just witnessed and educate yourself on the subject.
Sometimes, parent’s initial response isn’t the best one. You never want to shame them, embarrass them, or make them feel guilty. This will typically just make the situation worse for both parties involved.
Why Do Children, Teens, and Young Adults Cut Themselves?
It’s extremely important to stay calm, open, and strong. Your daughter or son may have been terrified of you finding out about their “secret weapon”, as I used to call it when I was younger.
Many kids or teens cut themselves due to overwhelming stress or emotions, others cut just to feel anything at all, while some do it simply as an experiment. For some teens, this can turn into an addiction, as endorphins are released in the brain in certain individuals — thus leaving them to continue the addiction into their twenties or even later.
You see, I started cutting myself in 6th grade around 11 or 12 years old. I don’t remember the first time I ever did it. I only remember that I used to read a lot of books about “messed up” teens who had extended stays in psych wards and had all kinds of emotional disorders. Even though I hadn’t yet begun exhibiting cutting behaviors, I identified so much with the characters in the books.
Through storytelling and fiction, you get a bird’s eye view of what’s going on inside the character’s head. I related to their thought patterns and their view of themselves. I related to their anxieties, their self-esteem issues, and their battles with depression.
So naturally, when those teenage hormones kicked in, I used the only method I really knew about to relieve those emotions. For me personally, it was a distraction from overwhelming emotions. I would get myself worked up to the point where I was hyperventilating, and since I couldn’t tell my mom what was going on so I could seek treatment for my mental illnesses, I would cut myself with a razor blade. I always did it in hard-to-find places — and thought my secret was safe. Later on in life, people have told me that they always knew but didn’t know to approach the situation.
Remember: While suicide typically isn’t their intention, it can happen on a particularly bad day or by accident. Cutting shouldn’t be treated as if it is normal, and evaluation by a medical professional is always recommended if you know your loved one is hurting themselves.
How Do I Talk to My Child About Cutting?
If you’re nervous about bringing this subject up with your child, that’s perfectly normal. I’ve unfortunately been on both ends of this conversation.
First, stay calm. The second you tell them that you want to talk about something, their heart is most likely going to sink into their stomachs. It is so important that they feel safe, not judged, and free to talk honestly, but at their own pace. It’s not a good idea to “punish” them, like grounding or taking away privileges; there are bigger problems going on that are not punishable offenses.
Since there are often other mental illnesses coinciding with the cutting behaviors, you should ask them if they think they need treatment for cutting. If they say yes, that’s a win! At least they’re recognizing that what they’re doing isn’t normal and that they want to stop, but can’t on their own.
If they say no, try and convince them to willingly go for a psychiatric evaluation to see if there are other problems going on as well, and how serious they are. If they are persistent in their “no” answer, you have legal options to commit them, even if you are not blood-related. Call us today at 1-877-588-9668 so we can discuss those options and get you and your loved one started on the path towards recovery.