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self-harm

Stop Self-Harm. Resources for Parents and Teens.

February 27th, 2019     By Boys Town Contributor

Anxiety, Coping Skills, Coping Skills for Teens, Depressed, Harmful Behaviors, Mental Health, Self-Injury, Understanding Behavior

The idea that a child would engage in self-harm is often baffling to parents. Self-harm often occurs for the first time at the transition between childhood to adolescence. It's around this time that adolescents begin to think more about their feelings, pay more attention to peers' behaviors and place more of an emphasis on fitting in.  Upon discovering their adolescent is self-harming, parents may become deeply concerned and wonder if their child is thinking of suicide. It is important to know that self-harm and suicide are two distinct concerns, and one does not always imply the other will happen. Understandably, many parents want to understand why their son or daughter is self-harming. Children and adolescents may self-harm for a number of reasons. Below are three common reasons why some self-harm.

• Emotional pain. Some may self-harm to manage emotional pain. Research has found that adolescents who self-harm to manage emotional pain report that they feel better after cutting. Those who self-harm for this reason may hide it for months before it is discovered and often do not want others to know.

• Communication. An adolescent may try to communicate to others that she is experiencing emotional pain. In this case, the cuts may be on wrists or other visible areas and the individual may not try to conceal them.

• Belonging. Engaging in self-harm may give individuals a sense of belonging if they spend time with peers who also self-harm. For example, individuals who are seeking a sense of belonging through self-harm may talk about cutting or may take pictures of their cuts and share them through social media. This shared interest may give adolescents a sense of belonging and acceptance that can be appealing.

The examples above suggest that self-harm is often maintained by the responses from others or by skill deficits in managing emotions. Therefore, self-harm can be treated by modifying the responses and by teaching skills to better manage emotions. If a person is cutting or engaging in any other form of self-harm, a mental health professional should be consulted, but below are some additional resources for both parents and teens who may be dealing with self-harm.

YourLifeYourVoice.org: This website is part of the Boys Town National Hotline and provides kids and families the opportunity to ask their questions via phone, text, chat or email. Let your kids know they are not alone, support is available to them 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. The site also offers content specifically for teens related to preventing self-injury including journal pages and worksheets. http://www.yourlifeyourvoice.org/Pages/self-injury.aspx

MyLifeMyVoice App: This app is a great way to help teens track their changing moods and behavioral triggers by journaling within the app. You can review a report of your tracked moods over a period of time, and you can also get life tips on ways to help turn your mood around when you're feeling down or stressed out!

Help Your Child Build Their Own Coping Skills Toolbox: Coping skills are great tools for kids to have when the stresses and strains of life threaten to slow them down or overwhelm them. Coping skills are not a "one size fits all." This means a coping skill that works for one person might not work for another. Help them find and develop the coping skills that work best for them in various situations. https://www.boystown.org/parenting/Pages/feelings-and-coping-skills.aspx

What Happens When You Call the Hotline? - Have a specific question? The Boys Town National Hotline's specially trained counselors are available 24 hours a day, 365 days a year to offer you parenting advice and assistance or to help your teen if they need someone to talk to. Program this number in your phone and your child's phone so it's always available. Ask your own question or call 24/7 at 800-448-3000.

Managing Your Anger: Everyone gets angry. It's a natural emotion. It's okay to feel anger. However, what you do with your anger is a major part of what defines your character. If you or your child are having a hard time managing your anger, here are a few steps you can take that will help. (https://www.boystown.org/parenting/Documents/Manage-Anger-tool.pdf)

If you become aware that your child is engaging in self-injurious acts, remember that it is fairly common. Approximately one out of every eight people engages in some form of self-harm behavior, and currently, it's more widespread than it has been in prior decades. Among people who have mental illnesses, it is more common, affecting approximately one out of every four people. Though it is often frightening for parents, the majority of teens who cut themselves do not intend to inflict serious injury or cause death. If the injury appears to pose potential medical risks, contact emergency medical services immediately. If the injury doesn't appear to pose immediate medical risks, remain calm and nonjudgmental, contact your child's pediatrician to discuss the concerns, and ask for a referral to a trained mental health professional who has experience in this area.

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