If you’re a parent of a teenage girl, the idea of your daughter intentionally hurting herself is difficult. But it’s important for parents to know about this sign of psychological distress. The practice is on the rise among adolescent girls.
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Why do people self-harm?
There are many reasons why someone may self-harm, but, in short, it’s an unhealthy way of coping with intense emotions.
Those who self-harm often experience it as a form of emotional release or a distraction from emotional pain. Or some may feel emotionally numb and view self-harm as the only way they can feel anything.
Others may view self-harm as a form of communication — a cry for help. This is why it’s important for parents to know what to look for; your daughter may be trying to tell you she is in pain.
Why is self-harm on the rise?
“Self-injury and suicide rates have been increasing among adolescents since 2009,” says psychologist Kristen Eastman, PsyD. Nobody knows for sure why this is, but there are likely a number of contributing factors.
Some possible explanations include increased economic pressure on families, more stress on teenage girls, problematic cell phone use that contributes to depressed mood, and cyberbullying. It’s also possible that teenagers are simply reporting self-harm more often than they used to.
7 signs to watch for
Dr. Eastman suggests watching out for the following behaviors and signs:
- Injuries from cutting or scratching (with a razor, paperclip or anything else that can break the skin), burns, skin picking, or hitting/punching one’s self.
- Multiple similar marks on your teen’s skin in close proximity, or any wound or injury for which your teen doesn’t have a clear explanation.
- A fascination with self-harm (a sudden interest in peers who are engaging in this behavior; watching videos about self-harm online; a sudden interest in reading, learning or talking about self-harm).
- A desire to hide the skin. Not wanting to expose certain body parts, covering up in ways that seem suspicious (wearing a long-sleeved shirt on hot days, multiple Band-Aids or other wraps over the skin in an attempt to conceal injuries).
- Increasing anxiety, stress, and/or symptoms of depression with your teen appearing (or reporting) to feel out of control or at a loss for how to cope with these emotions.
- A trigger event, often a rejection (from a boyfriend or friend, or fallout with a peer group that produces significant distress).
- Isolation, including shutting off from family and/or friends, spending more time alone than was typical for your teen before.
What to do if you suspect self-harm
Show compassion. If you suspect that your teen is self-harming, or if she tells you she is, it’s important not to panic.
What your teen needs now is compassion — and help. Validate her emotions. Let her know you understand that she’s feeling overwhelmed. But make it clear that there are better ways to deal with it and you’ll help her figure those out.
Get help. The next step is to get your teen some professional help. Look for a mental health professional who has experience treating adolescents who self-harm. If you’re not sure where to start, talk to your pediatrician first.
It’s distressing to learn that your child has been self-harming. But, with your support and a professional’s help, your teen can learn healthier ways of coping with tough emotions.