5 Myths About Teen Self-Harm Behavior

depression in teens

As part of my work with children and adolescents, I meet many teens who cope with their distress by cutting or using another form of self-harm.  What parents may find surprising is that teens typically report that cutting doesn’t hurt and that it is very helpful in alleviating their emotional pain; therefore, they are often ambivalent about stopping the behavior. Teens are aware that their parents would not/do not approve, which may lead to a sense of guilt of shame about the behavior.

Parents often feel confused, frustrated, and helpless as to why their child would choose to hurt him/herself, and have false beliefs as to the reasons behind “why” their child is cutting. Here are some common myths about self-harm.

Myth #1: To get attention.

While this is the most common misconception amongst parents and therapists, teens often cut for months before anyone notices that it is even happening! And according to some research, less than 4% of adolescents deliberately hurt themselves to get attention.

Myth #2: Because everyone else is doing it.

Self-injury indicates significant emotional distress and needs professional guidance. It should not be dismissed as a casual behavior with friends or a behavior that will be outgrown after the teen years. Adolescents generally don’t start injury themselves because of the influence of friends. That said, they are more likely to choose friends who share their behavior.

Myth #3: Drugs and alcohol increase the likelihood of self-harm.

Self-harm, drugs, and alcohol all serve the same purpose of helping to regulate intense emotions (in inappropriate ways), but there is no evidence that one is the cause of the other. Substance use and cutting are independent of each other.

Myth #4: Certain kids manage physical pain more easily than emotional pain.

When emotionally revved up, teens typically experiences a sense of calmness, relief, and soothing when they damage their skin. When tolerating emotional distress becomes too intense, some teens rely on cutting like an old friend to get them through.

Myth #5: It’s an attempt at suicide.

When teens self-harm, it is generally in the absence of an intent to die (as with a suicide attempt) rather it is in an effort to self-soothe.

Tip…If you want to find the “meaning” of your child’s behavior, ask him or her “Why?” instead of assuming the answer. Generally, answers are “I cut myself because I hate myself,” or “I deserve to be punished,” or “I want to show people how much I hurt on the inside.”

If you suspect that your teen is cutting, it is indicative of emotional distress and a consultation is recommended. Please call us to learn more about scheduling an appointment. 440/250-9880

Written by Victoria L. Norton, Psy.D. for Linden Blog.  If you are interested in receiving original information and articles about similar topics, sign up for the blog in the link below.