Self-Harm is the practice of deliberately causing pain or destroying body tissue in an attempt to escape overwhelming feelings of stress and emotional pain. While self-harm has always been somewhat present in the adolescent scene, it is becoming increasingly more common as a coping mechanism. Because teens go to great lengths to keep their self-harming behavior a secret, parents should be aware of the warning signs as well as the risk factors that lead to the disorder.
Risk Factors For Self-Harm
Self-harm can affect any teen, regardless of race or socioeconomic status; however, more girls than boys are likely to abuse the practice. Despite how it may seem, self-injury is not necessarily a precursor to suicidal intentions. Rather, it causes the body to release endorphins, resulting in a temporary feeling of numbness or euphoria. While the factors that cause each teen to resort to such painful measures are complex and varied, there are some common triggers to be aware of:
- Academic pressure
- Emotional detachment or feelings of invalidation from parents or caregivers.
- Peer pressure or the inability to feel accepted in a desired social group.
- Attempting to fit in with peers that idealize dangerous behavior.
- Difficulty expressing emotions or feelings.
- Effort to gain some measure of personal control after major life changes like death, divorce or loss of friends.
- Negative body image.
What Are the Warning Signs of Self-Harming Behavior?
- Unexplained cuts, burns or other marks on the body.
- Wearing long sleeves and long pants during warm weather. Teens that self-injure often target parts of the body that can be easily covered up.
- Elusive or secretive behavior combined with long periods of isolation.
- A trend or history of self-harming behavior among your teen’s close peer group.
- Missing items within the home, like razors, safety pins, knives, lighters or matches. Similarly, finding such items stashed in your teen’s room is also a warning sign.
- Concern from teachers, siblings or other individuals close to your teen that have observed him participating in self-destructive behavior.
What Can I Do To Help My Teen?
If you have discovered that your teen is deliberately harming himself, one of the first things you must do is assess whether or not he is in immediate danger. If so, you should seek emergency medical care. Next, you need to determine what stress or emotional pain is at the core of his need to cope throughout self-injury. In many cases, an adolescent therapist can guide you both through the process of managing existing issues and learning healthier coping skills.
For information about self-harm among teens or a free consultation about your son’s behavior, please contact us at Liahona Academy (1-800-675-8101.)