Cutting, self-injury, head banging, intentional burning. Self-harm is one of the main reasons parents around Atlanta bring their teenagers in for counseling with me. Here are some important facts about self-harm that all parents should know.

  • Self-harm is often a symptom of anxiety or depression. Parents understandably get very worried when they discover their children cutting or otherwise hurting themselves. They want the self-harm to stop – now! But what we know is that working in therapy to feel less depressed, isolated or anxious is what’s most effective in helping teens stop. That’s why I help teens with self-esteem, positive self-talk, and other strategies for change.
  • Teens who use self-injury often see it as a terrible but necessary coping skill. This sounds crazy to many adults. But adolescents who self-harm typically don’t feel good about it. They self-harm because they find it helpful – helping them feel sensations when they feel numb, helping them direct pain in a concrete way, helping them express difficult feelings. I help teenagers learn and practice constructive coping skills so they will be less likely to turn to self-harm.
  • It’s not just teen girls who cut or self-harm. I work with males and females who self-harm. No matter a client’s gender, I help them figure out what’s really going on so they can find new ways to handle worries, sadness and stress.
  • Taking away razors/scissors/all sharp objects is a short-term solution that may hurt in the long term instead of help. As much as you might want to protect your teen, it is impossible to keep him or her away from all sharp objects. Feeling out of control (as when a parent takes away a razor) can be a trigger to self-harm.
  • Self-harm isn’t usually an indicator of suicidal thoughts or plans. The majority of people who self-harm say they experience no thoughts of suicide. That said, self-harm is still a serious issue that needs attention.
  • It’s pretty common for teens to self-harm without anyone knowing. This does not mean you’re a bad parent. Rather, it probably means your child knows that you and others will be seriously concerned if you find out.

Not sure what to do to be helpful? Here are a few pointers: Get concerned, not angry. (Teen are probably angry enough at themselves.) Seek help for your child to figure out what’s at the root of this problem. Know that it can take time to stop, but that you can maximize your influence to help your child change.