Parenting Troubled Teens Who Self-Harm

If you have recently discovered that your teen has been participating in self-harming behavior, you are not alone. According to recent studies, around 1 in 10 teens have self-harmed as a way to cope with stress or emotional pain. Self-harm is when individuals deliberately injures themselves, usually through cutting or burning the skin, as a way to force the body to produce endorphins which results in a temporary numbing or euphoric sensation. Because self-harm is such a secretive activity, many parents are unaware that it is happening until it becomes a real problem.

Understanding Why Teens Self-Harm

Self-harm is often misunderstood by those who have never experienced the compulsion. For instance, it does not necessarily indicate a desire to commit suicide. Rather, it is a coping mechanism employed to control painful feelings, cause distraction or externalize internal pain. Many teens think of it as therapeutic, while also recognizing that there is a stigma attached to such actions. Because of this, they are unlikely to tell anyone or seek help on their own.

What Can I Do For My Self Harming Teen?

Guilt, helplessness, anger or even disgust are all natural emotions after you discover that your teen has been self-harming. Learning that your child has deliberately been causing himself injury can be very difficult and unsettling for you. Knowing what to watch for and how to effectively react to your teen can help make the difference in his healing process.

  • Keep an eye out for isolation or secretive behavior in your teen, especially after a negative experience like a fight or a bad day at school.
  • Constantly wearing long sleeves and long pants, especially during warm weather, is a red flag for self-harming behavior. Teens often choose areas of the body, like the arms, legs and abdomen that can easily be covered up.
  • Encourage your teen to talk about things that are upsetting them. Let him know that you are there to help him work through his problems.
  • Be understanding, tolerant and non-judgmental. Regardless of how it seems to you, your teen sees his actions as helpful and therapeutic.
  • Do not order him to stop. While it is tempting to end the behavior any way you can, it is counter-productive and more likely to make him panic. It is more effective to gain his trust and help him develop healthier coping methods. However, if an injury is infected or life threatening, seek medical attention immediately.

Get Professional Help

While there are things you can do to help and support your teen, the most effective way to help him heal is through counseling or therapy with a qualified professional. Your doctor or pediatrician can give you a referral to a therapist that specializes in adolescents and self-destructive behavior. With their help, your son can identify the root of his pain and learn how to manage it in a healthy, non-destructive way.

For more questions about self-harm and the solutions available to you and your teen, please contact us for a free consultation at Liahona Academy 1-800-675-8101.

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