No parent ever wants to hear that their teen is thinking about purposely causing harm to their body. However, a recent study published by the American Journal of Public Health indicates that 1 in 10 high school boys and 1 in 4 high school girls report having engaged in self-harm in the past year. Self-harm, or the act of purposely hurting oneself without the intention of suicide, is a scary reality for our teens that we need to be aware of. It’s important to distinguish that self-harm is not a mental illness, but it is a sign that your teen is struggling and needs to learn alternative coping strategies.
Unfortunately, teens often experience feelings of shame when they self-harm, and they will often hide these thoughts and behaviors from their families, friends, and peers. If you suspect that your teen may be self-harming, talk to them. Engage them in a more supportive conversation with the intention of getting your teen the help they may need.
Here are some tips to help you have this difficult conversation with your teen.
- Keep it simple and avoid the lecture. Showing your teen that you’re there to listen and not judge is crucial if you want them to open up. Be curious, ask questions, and give them time to answer.
- Look at self-harm as your teen’s attempt to solve a problem in their life. We know that there are always other options, but it’s important to recognize that your teen is feeling desperate.
- Remind your teen that it’s okay to not be okay. Being a teenager is a complicated time of growth with a lot of change and emotional intensity. As a result, your teen is learning to adapt. With all of this growth, we can expect some growing pains.
If you discover that your teen is experiencing frequent thoughts of self-harm, seek professional support by contacting your pediatrician’s office, speaking with a school counselor, or searching for a therapist online. Any actual threat of harm should be taken seriously. If the danger is immediate, call 911 or go to your local emergency room and ask for the psychologist or psychiatrist on-call.