Kristin Bieber, Ph.D.
Self-harm occurs when an individual hurts oneself on purpose. Self-harm may first occur at the transition between childhood to adolescence. Around this time, adolescents begin to think more about their feelings, pay more attention to peers’ behaviors and place more of an emphasis on fitting in. Boys Town Center for Behavioral Health shares information to help prevent and respond to self-harm.
The first step in addressing self-harm is educating parents. Upon discovering that their adolescent is self-harming, parents may become deeply concerned and wonder if their child is thinking of suicide. It is important to know that self-harm and suicide are two distinct concerns and one does not always imply the other will happen. Understandably, many parents want to understand why their son or daughter is self-harming. Children and adolescents may self-harm for a number of reasons. Below are three common reasons why some self-harm:
The examples above suggest that self-harm is often maintained by the responses from others or by skill deficits in managing emotions. Therefore, self-harm can be treated by modifying the responses and by teaching skills to better manage emotions.
Signs of self-harm may include isolation, staying up much later than the rest of the family, taking long showers, frequent disappearance of sharp or other objects, wearing long sleeves all year long, wearing several bracelets at once, other behaviors that indicate resistance to showing skin, telling others about self-harming, or sharing pictures of cuts or wounds through social media.
Self-harm often occurs within the context of other concerns such as depression, anxiety, risk-taking, eating disorders or oppositional behavior. If these concerns are interfering with your child’s relationships, interest in activities, and academic performance, talk with your primary care physician about a referral for behavioral health services.