Recognizing self-harm in teens


Unfortunately, teens can be prone to acts of self-harm, perhaps as a result of symptoms such as depression or anxiety. However, the sooner parents or teachers recognize these symptoms before they spiral out of control, the greater the odds self-harm will be prevented in the future. There are many who view this terrible habit as a phase, but it’s important to know the reasons when and why it can occur. Though self-harm is more likely to occur in females, teen boys are also just as susceptible and awareness needs to be increased.


Physical signs of self-harm include cutting all over the body, especially on the wrists. This can lead to bleeding and scabbing in the area, though it could appear as minor as a scratch. The seriousness of this behavior will depend on the psychological state of mind of the adolescent. Some professionals cite that those who cut feel greater levels of control. Impulsive behavior and peer pressure can also play a role. The signs can often first begin during middle school.

There could be a traumatic event, such as a divorce or death in the family that has led to these symptoms. Perhaps the young person lost a friend or significant other, leading to greater agitation or despondency. Mothers and fathers should watch for excessive wearing of long sleeved shirts, especially during warmer weather. If the teen is spending great amounts of time alone or is being evasive about what he or she is doing, this could also be an indication.

Reasons for self-harm

While it is true that the likelihood is greater in female adolescents than males, this only means that perceptions need to change. There is the possibility that the path to self-discovery can lead to extreme actions in those who self-harm. Many medical health professionals believe that it can be a means for a teen to deal with strong emotions. However, this is a considerably different method of dealing with pain than drug use, especially if communication between parents and teens is lacking.

Parents should clearly be alarmed by any cuts that do not have a clear or logical explanation. This will be more obvious if cutting is happening repeatedly over a period of time. The cuts will often be smaller and in succession next to each other. The signs can also be related to a mood disorder, such as anxiety or depression in specific cases. Most cutting that medical experts see is not especially deep. Yet adults often assume that the signs indicate suicidal behavior, though this will depend on the circumstances. It has been shown that ethnicity does not play a significant factor, as well as the income level of the family.

How parents and teachers can help

Parents should express concern, while avoiding being judgmental. A school counselor can also provide guidance for adolescents who are willing to speak with them. Perhaps a parent can assist the young person in becoming more socially adjusted and being able to admit when he or she needs help. Parents can also practice methods to assist the teen in stopping immediately when the risk for self-harm is at a serious point. The teens can discuss different methods that work especially well for them, so that they do not feel ashamed as a result.

If self-harm is first detected in a school setting, it will hopefully be in a counselor’s office. This will allow the counselor to discreetly inform the parents if they are not aware. However, if peers do become aware, as in the case of an emergency, then the school will need to handle the matter as diplomatically as possible. Fellow students that choose to be insensitive, perhaps due to their own insecurities, will need to be reprimanded as to why their comments are inappropriate. This should hopefully discourage these responses in the future.


Psychotherapy has often been successful for patients who accept treatment. The young person will learn more adaptive coping skills to deal with unpleasant emotions. Antidepressant and anti-anxiety medication can be prescribed if a mood disorder is diagnosed.

Those who partake in self-harm will need to find new coping skills to assist prevention in the future. This could be any activity that encourages a positive and productive outlet, such as finding the right peer group or club. Perhaps a teen will eventually be willing to help another who is facing the same symptoms. A support group could offer the young person a chance to turn his or her past behavior into a powerful learning experience. Having a positive attitude about change can certainly benefit the self-esteem of a teen, as he or she hopefully realizes that there are other means of dealing with stressors than self-harm. White River Academy has the expertise to treat young people who are engaging in self-harm. Concerned family members can be assured that patients will be able to move forward with new coping skills in life as a result of treatment. Call 866-520-0905 for more information.

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