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How to Support a Teenager Who Self-Harms

A storyteller-researcher who focuses on the prevention of mental disorders and substance abuse among children, youth, and young adults.

How to Support a Teenager Who Self-Harms

How to Support a Teenager Who Self-Harms

Why Do Teenagers Self-Harm?

Most people who engage in cutting or other forms of self-harm do so in an attempt to break free from intense emotions and circumstances that feel overwhelming. It can be connected to deeper emotional problems that need addressing. Most of the time, it is not an effort at suicide.

Many teens and preteens are affected by cutting. Many worry about a buddy who cuts or experience peer pressure to pursue cutting.

Teenagers frequently battle alone with cutting and the emotions that go along with it. However, more teenagers may now access the necessary support due to increased awareness.

Teens who hurt themselves can get assistance from their parents—the sooner, the better. Unfortunately, many people underestimate the risks illness and injury that come with cutting and other forms of self-harm.

Upon Discovering Your Child's Self-Injury

There are ways to assist your teen if they harm themselves. You may give your teen the calm, steady support they require by becoming understanding about it, dealing with your own emotions, seeking expert assistance, and simply being there to love and believe in them.

Embrace your feelings: It's normal to experience a wide range of emotions if you know or have reason to believe that your kid is self-harming. You might experience several emotions, including shock, rage, sadness, disappointment, confusion, or fear. You might feel betrayed by your teenager for not seeking your assistance or guilty for being unaware of what was happening. These feelings are all entirely understandable. However, neither you nor your teen is to blame.

Spend some time recognizing your own emotions and figuring out how to communicate them: This can mean letting out a good cry, talking with a buddy, taking a stroll to clear your head, or meditating silently. Talking with a therapist will help you sort through your feelings and gain some perspective so that you can give your teen the support they require if you are feeling overwhelmed.

Do all you can to learn about it: Understand everything you can about teen self-harm, including its causes and prevention strategies. Peer pressure is a factor in some teen cutting, and once they start, it's difficult to quit. Other teenagers struggle to accept failures or mistakes because they feel pressure to be perfect. Others, meanwhile, struggle with intense emotions like rage, misery, worthlessness, and despair that they find difficult to control or too heavy to bear. Sometimes trauma and unpleasant experiences that no one is aware of lead to self-harm.

It can be painful to consider that your child may feel any of these things. Despite how challenging it may be, try to remember that identifying the causes that lead your teen to self-harm is an essential step in the healing process.

What to Say to a Child Who Self-Harms

Speak to your child. Speaking about something so upsetting might be uncomfortable. It's possible that you don't know what to say. It's alright. The way you say it will be just as important as what you say.

  • You might simply state that you are aware of the cutting or other self-harm to start the topic, and then express your worry, love, and eagerness to support your child in stopping.
  • Your teen will probably find it difficult to discuss, as well. They may be worried about how you'll respond or what might happen, or they might feel humiliated. Asking your kid questions and paying attention to what they have to say without responding with punishment, reprimand, or lectures might help allay their concerns. When possible, try to respond with compassion and support instead of passing judgment or reacting in fear or hatred.
  • Ask your teenager about any challenging circumstances they may be going through and explain that self-harm is sometimes connected to negative events or high stress. Your child may not be ready to discuss it or even understand why they do it. Even if that is the case, make it clear that you want to understand and figure out how you can assist.
  • If your teen refuses to talk about it with you, don't be upset. They may refuse to admit it, become irate or disturbed, sob, yell, or storm off. Teens could be silent or claim that they simply don't realize it. If something similar occurs, try to maintain your composure and patience. Don't give up; find another opportunity to speak, then try again.

Getting Help

Seek out professional assistance. A skilled mental health expert can help you understand why your teenager self-harms and can help your teen resolve past traumas and learn new strategies to cope.

Teens can share their experiences in therapy, verbalize their traumatic events, and develop coping methods for dealing with life's stresses. Additionally, therapy can assist in identifying any underlying mental health issues that require diagnosis and treatment. For many teenagers, self-injury, such as cutting, can be a sign of depression, bipolar disorder, unresolved sorrow, compulsive habits, or issues with perfectionism.

Finding a therapist who your teen can be honest and comfortable with is crucial. Your doctor or a school counselor might be able to offer advice if you need assistance finding someone.


How a Parent Can Help the Therapist

Stay as involved in the process as possible while your kid is receiving professional assistance. Request the advice of the therapist about how to interact with and support your teen. Ask them how you may best assist your child.

For instance, it might be beneficial to:

  • Make sure your kid knows you are available to talk to when problems seem too big to handle or feelings are raw.
  • As pressure mounts, assist your teen in developing strategies for what to do in place of self-harm.
  • Encourage your teen to express feelings, wants, frustrations, triumphs, and opinions through a conversation about ordinary occurrences.
  • When problems arise, be there to listen, comfort, support, and assist your teen in coming up with solutions.
  • Spend time together participating in enjoyable activities, unwinding, or simply hanging out. You could go for a stroll, a drive, have a snack, or run errands.
  • Although talking about problems is helpful, try not to let them consume you. Make careful to emphasize the positive aspects of life as well.
  • Lead by example: Be aware that by setting a positive example, you can affect how your child handles pressure and stress.
  • Keep an eye on how you control your own emotions and handle the pressure, stress, and frustration. Examine any tendency to belittle others, as well as your self-criticism and impulsive rage. If there are any patterns you don't want your teen to repeat, you might want to change them.
  • Maintain both hope and patience: Learning that your teen is self-harming could be the start of a prolonged process. It can take time to stop, and occasionally an adolescent isn't ready to stop or make the necessary changes.

To sum it up: Cutting or any kind of self-injury must be stopped, and this requires motivation and resolve. To manage stress and psychological trauma, it also helps to be self-aware and practice new coping skills. These procedures frequently require expert assistance and can take some time. You might have to exercise patience as a parent.

You can feel confident that your teen can quit and can acquire healthy positive coping strategies with the right guidance, love, and support.


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Sanfilippo, Joseph S. “Ask Not What Your Teen Can Do for You, but What You Can Do for Your Teen!” Journal of Pediatric and Adolescent Gynecology, vol. 10, no. 2, Elsevier BV, May 1997, pp. 57–58.

Briere, John, and Erin M. Eadie. “Compensatory Self-injury: Posttraumatic Stress, Depression, and the Role of Dissociation.” Psychological Trauma: Theory, Research, Practice, and Policy, vol. 8, no. 5, American Psychological Association (APA), Sept. 2016, pp. 618–25.

Brent, David. “Some Promising News About Psychosocial Interventions for Adolescent Self-harm.” Evidence Based Mental Health, vol. 18, no. 3, BMJ, July 2015, pp. 93–93.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and does not substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, and/or dietary advice from a licensed health professional. Drugs, supplements, and natural remedies may have dangerous side effects. If pregnant or nursing, consult with a qualified provider on an individual basis. Seek immediate help if you are experiencing a medical emergency.

© 2022 Charlene Grendon