Why Do Teens Self-Harm?
Self-Harm, an increasingly common practice among adolescents, is an attempt to cope with extreme stress or emotional pain. While cutting and burning are the most common types of self-harm practiced by teens, some also pull out hairs, swallow toxic chemicals or even break bones. Much like substance abuse, any teen can participate in self-harming behavior regardless of cultural or socioeconomic status; however, females are statistically more likely to abuse the practice than males.
Despite what it seems like, self-harming behavior is not necessarily an indication of suicidal intentions, or even a cry for attention. In fact, most participants are seeking fast relief from overwhelming stress or emotion by forcing the body to produce a rush of endorphins that result in a temporary numb feeling or a pleasurable sensation.
What Causes Teens To Self-Harm?
There are many reasons why a teen would turn to self-harm as a coping mechanism. The adolescent years are a time of great stress and social expectations, which can lead to the need for distraction or release from emotional pain.Self-harm is always an outward expression of inner pain, and it is helpful to know some of the potential triggers that might lead your teen to such behavior:
- Invalidation or emotional detachment from parents or respected authority figures.
- Feeling either “invisible” to their peers or bullied.
- Desire to connect or fit in with a peer group that encourages dangerous or “edgy” behavior.
- Attempt to exert control over something particularly when something in their environment is out of sync, such as a divorce, death or loss of their main social group.
- Negative body image and difficulty expressing feelings and emotions.
What Self Harming Behaviors Do I Look For In My Teen?
Teens generally go to great lengths to keep their self-harming actions a secret from their parents and teachers. Knowing what to look for can help you stay one step ahead of your teen before his behavior becomes a bigger problem. Some of the signs to look for are:
- Wearing long pants and long sleeves during warm weather.
- Unexplained burns, cuts or other marks on the arms, legs or stomach. Self-harmers most often choose parts of the body that can be covered up.
- Lengthy periods of isolation along with elusive or secretive behavior.
- Self-harming behavior among your teen’s close peers.
- Missing items such as scissors, knives, safety pins, razors, lighters or matches.
- Expressions of concern from teachers, siblings or friends that have observed physically self-destructive behavior.
What Can I Do To Help My Teen?
If you have discovered that your teen is engaging in acts of self-harm, you must get to the bottom of what is bothering him. While injuries that pose immediate risks for infection or death should be taken care of immediately, more minor situations can wait while you determine the best way to help him. Ordering him to stop is tempting, but is actually counter-productive. He cannot stop the behavior until he has learned to replace it with something else. The most effective way to do this is through counseling and therapy with a professional that specializes in teens.
For information about our program or a consultation about your teen’s behavior, please contact us at Liahona Academy (1-800-675-8101.)