Teens and cutting

In my practice I have noticed an increase in teens struggling with cutting.  Often the parents are very scared and the teen is in a lot of emotional pain.  Their parent may be afraid that they are suicudal or attention seeking.  More than likely, they are seeking a way out of their pain and are addicted to the act of cutting.

When working with the parent there are a few standard things they can do to help their teen.  First, remove all objects that could be used to cut including scissors, razor blades, paper clips, and even the binding of notebooks.  Then make a contract with the teen to not cut for a certain amount of time.  Lastly, and this may be painful, you must check them for fresh cuts.  This can seem scary or like a violation of privacy but it is important that they know they will be held accountable if they choose to continue the behavior.

Why would anyone want to cause physical harm to themselves?  According to teens I have worked with it is a relief of all the stressors and pressure they are carrying within themselves.  It is a way to express the emotional pain without having to risk the vulnerability to share with another human being that they fear may judge them.  During this time in an individual’s development there is a need to figure identity out, who you are and what it means to the world.  It is very important to encourage this exploration and independence, this is why not allowing the teen to have time alone when cutting is very damaging.  With support and limited access to  tools they can use to cut, they will recover.

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