How to Talk to Kids and Teens about Self-Harm

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Playing Self-Harm among Teen Girls Is on the Rise

The following material contains mature subject matter. Viewer discretion is advised.

The Doctors share an alarming statistic regarding young people and self-harm: 1 in 5 teen girls have engaged in self-harming behavior and the rates are on the rise. 

Self-harm is considered a symptom and not a diagnosis and finding treatment can be difficult. Also, some teens might not open up about self-harm due to a fear of not wanting to be thought of as suicidal. Parenting expert Dr. Deborah Gilboa and psychiatrist Dr. Shivani Chopra discuss what can be done to address these rising incidents of self-harm and they share tips for parents on how to best deal with a child who is engaging in this behavior.

Watch: How Parents Should Talk to Their Kids about Self-Harm

Dr. Chopra feels one cause of the increase in self-harm could be the mounting pressure many young people feel these days. Some signs she suggests parents keep an eye out for include:

  • Scars or marks on the child's arms, legs or abdomen
  • Burn marks
  • Healed scars
  • The carrying of sharp objects
  • Spending extended periods of time isolated in the bathroom

The most common reason she hears from her patients about why they self-harm is emotional pain and stress. She says many patients feel if they harm themself, they can transfer those feelings into physical pain, which they believe they have a levels of control over. She also notes some self-harm due to feeling numb or feeling nothing. "They want to feel something,... so cutting is better than feeling nothing" she explains. She also notes it could be a form of attention-seeking. 

Watch: Is Your Child Suffering from Eco-Anxiety?

So what can a parent if they discover their child is self-harming?

Dr. Gilboa says "good, engaged, self-aware parenting helps a great deal." She stresses the best approach is to talk and ask about the issue with the child. She says often the first reaction for a parent is to be angry, attack, deny or shame, due to the adult feeling scared. She notes none of those reactions will help the child in need.

"It doesn't matter how we feel, we have to get to how they feel," she says, urging parents to speak to their kids without judgment.

Both Dr. Gilboa and Dr. Chopra say parents should ask questions like, "Are you self-harming?" and "Do you have thoughts of wanting to hurt yourself?" They also urge parents to have a professional involved, who can then determine the best course of treatment.

In the video below, The Doctors continue their discussion about teens and the pressure they feel and share ways parents can possibly help to minimize it.

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