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Cutting for Attention? Parent Asks: Why Is Our Teen Engaging in Self-Harm?

By September 27, 2012

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A step-mom asks on our forum: My 12year old step daughter has been cutting herself. Not a huge amount, but we have seen her texts to friends saying that that is what she is doing. Shes definitely not hiding it. It seems to me like its attention seeking behavior. She is 12 but acts like 15. She wears low cut tops to show off her tits and plays her dad off against her mum. My partner falls for it most of the time as he can't say no to his kids. I see it as really just manipulating the situation. What should we do? Do we get hard or look to see if there is underlying issues? Everything I've read about cutting, the girls seem to be hiding it and ashamed to stuff, but with this one, the more attention the better. Any advice for me?

Denise's thoughts: I would start by creating some rules more appropriate for a 12-year-old instead of allowing her to act like a 15-year-old. Letting her know that there are many other positive ways to get your attention rather then doing things that that hurt her. Do more to create a positive relationship with her, giving her the attention she needs. We have some articles on cutting and self harm from our Troubled Teens Contributing Writer, Kathy Rudlin, LCSW:

Self-Injury Resources

The article I recommend you start with is Why do Teens Hurt Themselves with Self-Harming Behaviors?

If you find she is cutting more than you initially thought, you will want to ask her doctor for some help and resources. I hope it helps and please let us know how it is going.

Asking our parenting community: Do you have a teen who has engaged in self-harm behaviors like cutting? How did your family handle it and where did you find help for your teen? Please share your advice and experiences in our comments area.

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Comments
October 16, 2010 at 10:08 pm
(1) pegapooh2000 says:

When my daughter was 15 she started cutting herself and made no attempt to hide it either. She had started to dress like a tramp and was interested in older boys. I made the rules stricter, we talked about the reasons for her cutting, just kept my eyes and ears open … slowly things got better. Good luck to you and your family.

October 19, 2010 at 12:07 pm
(2) Chelsea says:

I can guarantee you that if your child is cutting and changes how she dresses, something is wrong. Yelling at her or cracking down on rules is not the answer. I’m not saying rules shouldn’t be enforced, but self-injury is a cry for help. Investigate to see if there’s been abuse in the past or ongoing abuse (family members, friends, boyfriend), bullying at school, depression, anxiety, a learning disability, an eating disorder (they often go hand-in-hand with cutting) or something else. I highly recommend having a qualified therapist talk to your child and find out what’s going on. Cutting itself is not the problem: it’s the symptom of a bigger problem.

October 20, 2010 at 10:37 pm
(3) Brenda says:

I don’t believe the cutting is for attention. It is because the teen has an inner pain that she can’t deal with, and the cutting and physical pain help the inner pain. I had a daughter that was a cutter. I am sorry to say she then went on to drugs to help her pain. Counseling didn’t help. Extra attention did not help either.

October 22, 2010 at 4:53 pm
(4) Jennifer says:

I agree with Brenda and Chelsea.
The cutting is used as a coping mechanism to manage overwhelming feelings and inner pain. Could it be that she feels left out within the step-family situation? do you know when the cutting started? are there any other significant changes in her life that might have triggered off the cutting?
It is more useful, however, if you engage in finding out what is behind the cutting, a symptom of the real problem.
lastly, whatever, the reason, best not to blame her or yourselves for her cutting but take a forward looking approach instead. Good luck

September 30, 2011 at 8:45 am
(5) kim says:

I am speaking as a mental health and pediatric nurse. Having seen young adults that did not get the mental help they needed younger make negative life-altering changes I urge you to seek professional counseling. It could be something chemically wrong that allows her to make these poor choices. I think you should be commended for seeking help for her! I would intervene early. Even if it is a counselor someone that she can talk to that is out of the picture so-to-speak. Now as a mom that is a tough decision to make. Good luck with all and I will keep you in my thoughts and prayers.

September 30, 2011 at 8:51 am
(6) Cathy says:

My son did cutting when he was about 14. He hid it but then told his dad. We got him some help with a psychologist and the cutting stopped. He had a difficult time adjusting to high school plus he has ADHD and an anxiety disorder. After the cutting he started using pot/alcohol and hanging around with other emotionally unstable teens which really only made matters worse. He’s 19 now and things are better but not great. The teen years are really painful for some and you just have to love them and keep trying to keep them safe.

September 30, 2011 at 9:33 am
(7) Jill says:

This crazy that this is the topic of the week, just went though this with our 14 yr. old. We just moved out-of-state, so she is missing her friends, haven’t made many friends at her new school yet.I have always stressed to my kids that they can come to me about anything,Thank You, Lord she did of course I broke down,but we got her what she needed which is and trying to find out if she just needs to talk to someone to talk to or if she needs to be on meds. The age for girls between 12-15 can be really difficult and to some quite trumatic. So I try to talk it out as a family, don’t take it lightly, find her help, and relie on your Faith.

September 30, 2011 at 10:32 am
(8) Ivana Pejakovic says:

Yes, I do think this little girl is crying out for attention from her dad and mom. I believe this girl has also been emotionally negelcted. Divorces and family separation can be tough on children, especially if parents don’t handel it right and communicate clearly to the kids.

Often times when girls don’t get a healthy amount of attention and encouragement from dad they are likely to look for it from other guys through sexual activity (including provacative dressing). Moms are role models to their daughters on how to handle challenges and how to be a woman.

Have both parents stepped up to the plate? Have they provided enough emotional support to their daughter? Have they been physically and psychologically present in her life?

At this point I suggest family therapy that will change the entire family dynamic and not focus on changing the girl’s behaviour. Her behaviour is a symptom of the larger picture. To eliminate the symptom, the entire picture must change.

This type of therapy involves a strong commitment and should only be appraoched if both parents are willing to make the changes necessary, are willing to give up the blame game, and are willing to persist when the going gets tough.

Good luck to your family!

September 30, 2011 at 1:55 pm
(9) S.A.F.E. ALTERNATIVES says:

The following link is a free Parent Webinar; understanding the Self Injuring child.

September 30, 2011 at 3:19 pm
(10) Sandie says:

None of us know your step daughter, you, your husband or his ex wife. I think everyone can agree that cutting is definitely ‘looking for attention’ and a cry for help and this is a step in the right direction for your step daughter as long as she gets the help she needs to work out what she is trying to deal with.
I don’t know what it’s like to be a step parent but I do have two teenaged daughters. Their Dad and I separated a year ago after 22 years. Just because my kids are older, doesn’t mean they haven’t had issues dealing with the separation. What I have trouble with are the words you used to describe some of her behavior “She wears low cut tops to show off her tits” and someone else posted that her 15 year old daughter “started to dress like a tramp”. The words we use to describe our children say a lot. This girl is only 12 years old and it really doesn’t matter how old she ‘thinks’ she is or how old she seems to be acting, she is only 12 years old and needs a lot of guidance, support and unconditional love, no matter how tough it gets.
My oldest daughter was cutting for about a year when she was 17 and thankfully she confided in a school counselor who called me after telling her that he would. We went to the children’s hospital and to other doctors from there and although I knew that the reasons she was giving for her cutting were not the real issues, the fact is that is all she wanted to say about it but whatever the real reasons were, she resorted to cutting and that was reason enough for me to stick it out, through all the lies, and hurtful things she said to me (and believe me it was tough).
Don’t give up on her. Do everything in your power to be there, even if it’s quietly in the background. Her parents splitting up and remarrying is out of her control but the cutting is up to her and she will keep doing it, until things feel ok again….help her to know things WILL be ok again.

September 30, 2011 at 8:45 pm
(11) alice says:

Our daughter was about 13 when she started cutting herself. Her dad and I sat her down and ask her why. For 3 hours all she could say because her friends did it. We took her to counseling and age is 18 1/2 and has not cut herself since.

February 4, 2013 at 9:55 pm
(12) Jacob says:

You so called parents are so arrogant. We can’t help it. It makes us feel alive. It makes us feel like we are worth something. Maybe you should actually do something instead of posting on some website. You need to help that kid, because we don’t do it for attention, we do it to make us feel something in our pathetic lives. You people need to grow up and open your eyes.
We show our scars like trophies. We worked for these. And it’s an addiction. We cannot stop. It’s physically impossible. I’ve been to mental hospitals. I’m schitzophrenic, bi-polar, depressed, and pretty much everything else. Just because you haven’t been through the hell we have is no reason to judge us. I’m 15 and I have scars all over my arms. I’ve tried to kill myself many times.
Grow up and help her, or she wont live till 15.
And no, I’m not emo. I wear regular clothes. So don’t even think that.

February 5, 2013 at 9:38 pm
(13) momtomik says:

Jacob
Please help me help my child. Tell me how. I love her so much..her dad just died, then her brother went into the hospital and i havent been ableto be there. I found out from someone else shes cutting her hips..she wont show me. Shes pretty, popular, smart and always smiling. Then I found a picture she drew of her crying and next to it a happy face that said “Im an actress.” She wont talk to me and completely shut down tonite.
What would u want from ur mom? Please help me help her.

March 18, 2013 at 8:14 pm
(14) me says:

momtomik, you need to show her that its ok, and that everything will be fine, you gotta be supportive of her, you need to be willing to get her whatever help she needs, you need to give her a hug especially, she needs love, as a 13 with cuts, whos abused, bullied, hates himself, is a freakin failure, and gets no love from no one, ik she needs at least that, it has nothing to do with being pretty, or smart, or popular, she just has trouble coping with her dad dying, and her brother going to the hospital

and person who left the original thing

maybe shes really depressed, or maybe her friends just do that, or media influence maybe

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