Help! My Teenager Is Cutting, What Should I Do?
When you notice unexplained cuts and scars on your teenager or they themselves tell you they are cutting, it is reasonable to panic and worry about your teenager’s health. Questions like, “Are they trying to kill themselves?” “Why are they cutting?” and “How can I help them?” may start to fill your head.
What Is Cutting?
Cutting is when someone deliberately harms their own body tissue with no suicidal intent. This means they are not trying to kill themselves when they cut. Mental Health Counsellors (such as myself) would classify cutting as Nonsuicidal Self-Injury (NSSI). Some other ways people harm themselves are by burning, scratching, or biting their skin.
Why Do Teenagers Cut?
Cutting and other NSSI behaviours are most common in teenage years. There are many different reasons why someone cuts. Teenagers cut:
- To cope with depression or anxiety
- To cope with loss, trauma, violence, or other difficult situations
- To ‘punish’ themselves
- To turn emotional pain into physical pain
- To feel ‘real’ and counter feelings of emptiness or numbness
- To feel euphoria
- To regain control of their bodies
- To simply feel better
What Should I Do To Help?
It’s important that your teenager finds a professional to talk to that they trust. This might be their family doctor, a school counsellor, or a mental health counsellor. As a parent, you can also support your teenager by talking about their cutting and their reasons for doing it. I recommend brushing up on your listening skills and following these tips from the Canadian Mental Health Association:
- Instead of focusing on your loved one’s self-injury behaviours, it may be more helpful to focus on your concern for their well-being.
- Don’t demand that your loved one immediately stop self-injuring. New healthy behaviours take time to learn. Instead, focus on supporting new behaviours and celebrate your loved one’s small steps forward.
- Avoid guilt, shame or judgement—these can get in the way of open and trusting relationships.
- Seek help or support for yourself, if you need it.