Cutting. It is one of the fastest growing self-harm issues of today among teens. Many parents assume that it only happens among girls which is true to an extent, but as you look at the alarming statistics, boys also self-harm and are not too far behind.
Studies show that cutting can start as young as 7 but the average start is between the ages of 10-16. When high school hits, girls are three times higher. Cutting has been around for half a century or longer but it is now becoming more prevalent in our society.
So why do they cut? Each teen has different reasons for their cutting. For some it is stress at school or at home. It could come from bullying or personal family problems. It can be from abandonment or psychological sufferings that they are tormented with such as abuse, incest, rape, body issues, rejection and more. Any of these reasons can make them susceptible to self-harm but in the end, it is a form of control and coping skill.
A teenager goes through so many hormonal, emotional, physical and mental changes and many of those changes are difficult to handle for themselves. They are not equipped with the tools or have the knowledge to comprehend all that is going on inside of them. They may not know of a safe place where they can let out their feelings or hurt that they are struggling with. And so they turn to themselves for relief.
By inflicting pain, they are distracting those thoughts of their hurts and bringing a release to that hurt. Similar to a fix in an alcoholic or drug user , they self-harm in order to forget about the real hurt inside. A cutter will self-harm to numb the psychological pain for a little while, then repeat it again because the emotional hurt returns.
As a parent who had a teen cutter, it was very frustrating to see my daughter with cuts on her wrists and stomach and other places. She knew it was dangerous because there are many who are misguided by things they hear or see on the internet and think they can do it too. That is one reason why hospitals are seeing a rise in self-harming teens.
My first deal that I made with my daughter was to allow her to write anywhere she wanted on her body in magic marker (I didn’t even care if it was permanent marker). She can write or draw the words of how she was feeling. And by golly, she sure got descriptive. Death, loneliness, sad, grave, die, rejected, and even scars. Her sister would be very embarrassed at her and couldn’t understand why we would allow her to walk out of the house to church or to the store like that. But I explained to her why we were allowing it. By doing that one thing, it dramatically curtailed the cutting. It wasn’t completely gone because, let’s be honest, self-harming is an addiction just like anything else.
The second deal was taking pictures. She could expressed herself in her photography, edit her pictures to however she wanted (as long as there was nothing inappropriate with her body). Now some of her stuff was pretty dark and creepy, but she was loving this new way of expressing how she felt about herself and her very complex issues that she was confronted with. She would get excited at her photography and show me how she edited her pics and the new angles she tried.
Music was another avenue we explored to help her learn how to express her emotions and feelings. Rapping was her genre at the time and she would write entire songs and some of lyrics were very deep and raw.
Lastly, which I think she loved the most, was to paint half of her room in black chalkboard paint and the other half in white marker board paint. So one side she could write chalk on the walls with poems, raps, musical lyrics, quotes, words,etc… and the other side she could do the same with the markers. Once we started to do the walls, the writing on the body almost diminished.
Please understand that it took a year for all these changes. But she no longer cuts. We also made sure to get her counseling as well to help reinforce the changes that were happening. The longer cutting goes on, the harder it is to stop it and please understand that when an emotional setback happens, it will also bring the self-harming back until they are given the tools to know how to cope with anything that comes their way.
If you once saw cuts on their wrists and you don’t see it anymore, that doesn’t mean she or he has stopped. She or he may have found a new place to cut such as their hip, stomach, leg and ankle. They could be just doing a better job of hiding it. You must keep on top of the cutting and get rid of items in their room or your house to curb the cutting as much as possible. Let the school teachers and church helpers know it too so that they can keep you updated for the times you can’t check on them.
I must address this last issue. Teachers and Church helpers will not always understand. You will or might get judged as a parent for allowing certain things such as the writing on their body. But this is your teen! You must do whatever is necessary to help them. Do not be ashamed of your teen or yourself. And you must tell yourself that you are not walking this journey alone. I can count on it that there are plenty of other parents whose teens are cutting and they don’t even know it.
I leave you with this challenge.
Pray for your teen daily. Open up the communication with them. Get them help and let them know that what they are doing scares you and you love them and want them to get healing for their hurt and pain that they are suffering with. Don’t condemn them for what they are doing. You might really be surprised in the end of why they are doing it in the first place.
Let them know that they are safe in talking about it with you. Ask them how you can help them, but let them know that what they are doing is dangerous (even if they try to convince you that it isn’t, don’t believe it) and that it isn’t healthy for them.
Lastly, be encouraged. You have not failed as a parent. You can only fail if you see what is going on and do nothing about it. But if you love your kid as much as me, nothing will stop you in saving your teen!