Kristin Bieber, Ph.D.
Self-harm behaviors are not as common as some of the other concerns we see, like depression, anxiety, kind of acting out behaviors, but I would say that pretty much all the clinicians have a few adolescents on their caseload whom they are treating for self-harm.
We usually see them start coming up around ages ten or eleven, that's when you're going to think of most kids are transitioning into adolescence and they are able to think a little bit more about their feelings. They are more concerned about what their friends are thinking about them, and just a little bit more aware of how they may or may not be fitting in. That becomes pretty important.
If you notice your teen is really isolating themselves a lot, so if they are spending more and more time alone in their bedroom. They are wearing long sleeves or they are really working hard to cover up different limbs or different parts of their body. For females and for males you might see a large amount of bracelets being worn so they can cover up areas like their wrists.
For some kids it's a way for them to communicate how pain they are going through. It may be really difficult for them to put into words what they are experiencing but they might be able to inflict pain or other wounds to kind of show people that this is what I'm going though.
Sometimes kids self-harm because they want to feel like they are part of a group. They might self-harm so that they can talk to other friends who are self-harming about it.
Then the third reason it's a way to manage emotional pain. So a lot of research has found that when teens inflict physical pain on themselves it can provide relief from emotional pain.
My advice to them is always to try to be as matter of fact as possible, and keep it short and simple when you're talking to your teen about self-harm. So your goal should be to communicate to them I want to support you and I want help you find new ways of coping with what's going on.
I tend to think of self-harm as more of a symptom of other things going on and it's not necessarily the main thing you want to focus on. We really work on helping them build new skills so that they feel like they have better ways of managing their emotions helping them develop positive relationships with their peers or with their family and helping them become more involved in things that are important to them in their life.
Dealing with self-harm behaviors can be a difficult situation for both parents and their children. Kristin Bieber, Ph.D., at Boys Town Center for Behavioral Health, offers tips and strategies for parents who are dealing with self-harm behaviors.