If you suspect your teen is deliberately cutting these steps will help you to initiate a discussion about self-harm, and support her in getting the professional help she needs.
Here's how to help:
1. Talk to your teen about cutting, or other self-harm behaviors you are seeing, or suspect she is engaged in. Express your concerns. Watching a movie or TV show together that includes scenes of self-harming behavior is a good way to get the conversation started.
2. Ask your teen directly if she is engaging in self-harm; often the direct approach is the most effective. Be clear that your goal is to help her, not to judge or punish.
3. Acknowledge that your teen must be in a great deal of pain. Keep in mind that trying to talk her out of it or telling her to stop, usually doesn't work.
4. Identify activities your teen can do when she feels the urge to hurt herself. The following pursuits help to release painful feelings and distract from the urge to self-harm:
• Walking, dancing or other exercise
• Creative pursuits such as painting or sculpting
• Crying or screaming
• Watching TV or movies
• Listening to music
• Pounding a pillow or punching bag
• Writing in a journal
5. Take steps to change your teens' self-harming behavior. Help locate a therapist to help her effectively replace cutting with less harmful coping methods. Make certain the therapist has expertise in this area.
6. Help your teen create a list of people to call when she has the urge to hurt herself. Consider friends or family members she can reach out to who will listen and encourage her not to hurt herself. Provide the hotline number 800-DONTCUT.
7. Suggest your teen try to substitute less damaging behaviors such as:
• taking a cold shower
• applying ice to the body
• snapping a rubber band around the wrist
• drawing or writing on the skin with markers
8. Be patient with your teen. Self-harming behavior takes time to develop and will take time to change. It is ultimately up to the teen to make the choice to help herself.
With early identification, support from her family, and professional assistance, she can successfully stop self-harming.
FAQ on Teens and Self-Harm, Cutting and Self-Injury
- When Teens Self-Harm: How Dangerous Is It?
- Why do Teens Hurt Themselves with Self-Harming Behaviors?
- How Do I Know if My Teen Is Engaging in Self-Harm?
Other Parenting FAQs:
- Why does my teen need privacy?
- How can I get my teen to do their homework?
- Should parents snoop on their teen?
AAMFT (American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy). Consumer Update: Adolescent Self-Harm, by Matthew D. Selekman, LCSW, 2002.
Psychology Today. Overcoming Self-Sabotage: How to Understand and Regulate Destructive Behaviors, by Eddie Selby. January 2010.