Teenage Self Harming

Debbi Carberry Parenting, Teens

What is Deliberate Self Harm?

Teenage self harming  – is a deliberate, non-life threatening injury inflicted by a young person (generally during teen years – though it can occur before or after this time) on their own body.  It is not usually an indication of the intention to end their own lives.

There are a number of different ways young people self-harm from cutting the skin of arms or legs and/or deliberate overdoses of both prescription and over-the-counter medications not designed to be fatal. Other behaviours such as burning or picking the skin or pulling out hair can also be termed ‘self-injury’.

Self-harm is different from suicidal behaviour however some teens who self-harm can also become suicidal.

Why do people do it?

When young people self-harm they are trying to deal with overwhelming and intense emotions.  The act of self-harm can become quite compulsive and can leave the person feeling sense of guilt, depression, shame and self-hatred.

Some people feel that self-harm is “attention seeking” – this is not accurate and it is often a way for the young person to let others know that they are not coping.

How many young people engage in self-harming behaviours?

Research suggests that 5-6% of the general population of young people deliberately self-injure each year in Australia.

Warning signs that your child might be self-harming

  • Unexplained wounds or scars from cuts, bruises, or burns, usually on the wrists, arms, thighs, or chest
  • Blood stains on clothing, towels, or bedding; blood-soaked tissues
  • Sharp objects or cutting instruments, such as razors, knives, needles, glass shards, or bottle caps, in the person’s belongings
  • Covering up – insisting on wearing long sleeves or long pants, even in hot weather

Parents and family member’s common reactions to self-harm

  • Anger
  • Disbelief
  • Denial
  • Fear
  • Guilt
  • Helplessness
  • Worry and concern

What can parents do?

  • Get help to deal with your own feelings
  • Learn about the problem – there are many reliable resources online
  • Try not to judge as it may make things worse
  • Offer support if you can and try to avoid ultimatums as they are unhelpful
  • Encourage your child to communicate with you about how they are feeling
  • DON’T IGNORE the behaviour
  • Seek professional help

In the first instance you can speak with your Doctor who will be able to refer you to a professional who works with young people who self-harm. You may also need professional help in coping with how you are feeling about what is happening.


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Until next time …