Cutting – A Way that Adolescents Cope with Anxiety & Depression & What to do as a Parent

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Perhaps you have noticed that teens today are more stressed than they were 20 years ago.  The academic and social pressure along with a schedule full of activities that would be overwhelming for most adults combined with the inability to cope has turned into a perfect storm for disaster for many teens.  They go to sleep late and are up early which is resulting in sleep deprivation.  This is due to the amount of homework and studying they are doing at night combined with social media and technology distractions that are keeping them up late.  Sleep deprivation only enhances their mood making it more difficult for teens to cope.  Some adolescents have figured out methods of coping to help balance and manage their stress.  Others turn to unhealthy ways of coping including non suicidal self-injury (NSSI).  In this blog, we are going to focus on cutting, which is a method of NSSI.

What is cutting?

Cutting is an act of self-injury in which a person purposely cuts themselves.  Usually, this is done with a knife, razor blade, scissors, or any other sharp object.  The purpose of cutting is to cope with emotional pain.  Although adolescents do not intend to kill themselves through cutting, teens who cut themselves are more at risk for suicide.  When teenagers cut themselves, endorphins are released in their brain, which eases pain.  Cutting works, which is why adolescents continue to engage in it.

What to do as a parent

As a parent, it is unfathomable to think that your child would participate in cutting.  Intentionally hurting themselves with a sharp object is the last thing you would think they would do to cope with stress.  As a school counselor, over the years I have had numerous students disclose that they are cutting themselves and are terrified to let their parents know.  “They would yell at me and overreact,” I was told.  “I don’t want to upset them or make them worry.”

Children may not immediately share with you that they are cutting themselves.  Pay attention to warning signs and check in with your teen to see how they are feeling.  The following are some things to look for:

  1. Your child is wearing long sleeves when it is hot outside.
  2. Your child is covering up their wrist(s) with several bracelets or something else.
  3. Your child’s behavior has changed and they seem disaffected and may be isolating themselves more.
  4. You see cut marks on their arms or inner thighs.

If your child opens up to you, make sure that you just listen.  Do not overreact and try not to get upset in front of them.  Don’t forget, if they are coming to talk to you, it is because they are looking for your support.  Do not try to fix it.  Just.  Listen.  Let your child know that you are there for them and they can come to you if they are sad, anxious, or depressed.  However, it is also important that you understand that you are a parent and not a professional.  If your child continues to struggle with emotion regulation and finding alternatives ways to cope with stress, immediately seek help.  Reach out to a therapist.  Also, make sure to hide or lock up sharp objects including pencil sharpeners, shavers, and knives.  Teens mostly cut late at night when nobody is around so make sure your child knows they can come to you if they are having an urge late at night while you are asleep.  The more support a child has, the more likely they will overcome these urges.

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