When we were kids, and our parents had to worry about their tweens and teens “cutting,” we were talking about skipping classes! While playing hooky is still a problem, what “cutting” refers to today, can be a far more serious problem.
Cutting is where a troubled child will take to cut their flesh – usually of the arms and legs – with a knife razor or other sharp objects. The wounds are usually superficial, and not in and of themselves physically life-threatening – but the emotional implications are another matter entirely.
Cutting isn’t a new phenomenon, but this form of self-injury has been more out in the open in recent years. It has often been portrayed in movies and on TV and even talked about by celebrities who have admitted to cutting themselves at some point.
Cutting is a serious issue that affects many teens. Even if you haven’t heard about cutting, chances are good that your teen has, and might even know someone who does it. Like other risky behaviors, cutting can be dangerous and habit-forming. In most cases, it is also a sign of deeper emotional distress. In some cases, peers can influence teens to experiment with cutting.
The topic of cutting can be troubling for parents. It can be hard to understand why a teen would deliberately self-injure, and worrisome to think your teen — or one of your teen’s friends — could be at risk.
But parents who are aware of this important issue and understand the emotional pain it can signal, are in a position to help.
Who Is Cutting and Why Do They Do it?
Most kids who self-injure are girls, but guys do it too. It usually starts during the teen years and can continue into adulthood. In some cases, there’s a family history of cutting. A sense of shame and secrecy often goes along with cutting. Most teens who cut hide the marks, and if they’re noticed, make up excuses about them. Yet, some teens don’t try to hide cuts and might even call attention to them.
But, why would a teen choose to inflict this kind of self-harm? Most teens who cut are struggling with powerful emotions. To them, cutting might seem like the only way to express or interrupt feelings that seem too intense to endure. Emotional pain over rejection, lost or broken relationships or deep grief can be overwhelming for some teens.
Many times, a teen who cuts is dealing with emotional pain or difficult situations that no one knows about. The pressure to be perfect or to live up to impossible standards — their own or someone else’s — can cause some teens unbearable pain, and lead to cutting.
Cutting can become an addiction. Though for the person who cuts, it may provide some kind of temporary relief from emotional distress, the more a person cuts, the more he or she feels the need to do it. As with other compulsive behaviors, the brain starts to connect a momentary sense of relief from bad feelings with the act of cutting.
How Can Cutting Be Stopped?
Cutting behavior often lays hidden for a long time, but once it becomes noticed, it can be very difficult to stop. Teens whose cutting is an outgrowth of some other mental health condition, usually need to seek professional help. If cutting is so severe, that the physical injuries cause your teen to be seen by a doctor or ER, they may be referred to an emotional health facility or department for evaluation. Cutting could be grounds for admission to a mental health clinic. Some teens have more than one hospital stay for self-injury before they feel ready to accept help for cutting or other problems.
Some teens find a way to stop cutting on their own. This might happen if a teen finds a powerful reason to stop (such as realizing how much it hurts a friend or loved one), gets needed support, or finds ways to resist the powerful urge to cut.
To stop cutting, a person also needs to find new ways to deal with problem situations and regulate emotions that feel overwhelming. This can take time and often requires the help of a mental health professional.
Has your teen, or anyone they know been cutting? How was it handled? Please reply using the comments below.