It can be so stressful as a parent to watch your teen suffer from mental health problems, including anxiety and depression. But what if you suspect that your teen is cutting themselves? How do you react?

Why do teens cut themselves?

Cutting is a common form of self-harm behavior that is used to relieve inner stress and anxiety. Cutting refers to taking a sharp object to the skin to make small cuts in the body, usually the arms and legs. Like other forms of self-injury behavior, when a teen is cutting, it is not a form of suicide but rather an unhealthy coping mechanism individuals use to relieve stress. Knives, paper clips, razors and other sharp objects are commonly used in this behavior. Cutting, like other forms of self-harm, is most common in teenagers and adolescents, especially in females, and is part of a cycle associated with anger, sadness or neglect — followed by a quick mental relief from cutting.

How common are cutting and self-harm behaviors?

Studies have shown that roughly 15% of teenagers and 17-35% of college students have inflicted self-harm behaviors and approximately one in three individuals who engage in these behaviors are known to cut. If your teen is cutting, they are more likely to have risk factors such as a past history of trauma or abuse, low self-esteem, a history of bullying, mental health disorders such as anxiety, depression or personality disorders, eating disorders such as anorexia nervosa, binge eating or bulimia nervosa and substance abuse disorders.

How do I know if my teen is cutting?

Cutting and other forms of self harm behavior often occur do to severe underlying issues such as the ones listed above, and often times these underlying problems go unnoticed and untreated. Teenagers may often cover up their negative emotions through cutting and therefore learning the warning signs of this self-harm behavior potentially lead to seeking treatment.

  • Isolation and avoiding social situations
  • Wearing baggy or loose clothes to conceal wounds
  • Finding razors, scissors, straight pins, safety pins or knives in places where they do not belong
  • Multiple cuts or scars on the wrists, arms, legs, hips, or stomach
  • Always making excuses for having cuts or scars on the body
  • Spending long periods locked in a bedroom or bathroom

If your teen is cutting, definitely bring this up with them and consider seeking professional help.

Talking to your teenager about cutting

Many parents may be scared to address this issue with their teenager. Cutting is a very dangerous behavior and many parents may think they could make it worse by bringing up this topic. Communicating with your teenager by engaging in an open, nonjudgmental dialogue about what you have noticed and how concerned you are is the first step to engaging in a healthy conversation with your teenager about cutting. Here are some ways to bring up this delicate topic:

  • Ask them if anything is bothering them or if they are having trouble in school or with their friends.
  • Mention the signs and symptoms you have been noticing and explain why these are concerning to you.
  • Explain that you are here to help them and you will do anything to support them during this time.
  • Listen without judgment.
  • Ask if they would like to talk to a therapist.

If you are concerned that your teen is cutting, and you’re ready to seek help for self-harm, we encourage you to seek out help from a professional that is experienced in helping teens with this issue. With treatment centers in  many states around the U.S., we offer a variety of treatment options that can help teens get through the challenging adolescent years. Reach out to us for more information.

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