Cutting is a word that is familiar in teen circles in today’s society. But parents beware; this term no longer means skipping classes. This article will look at what cutting is, reasons why teens cut and steps that parents can take to recognize and help their teen who may be involved in this form of self injury.
What is Cutting? Cutting is a dangerous form of self injury in which a person uses an object to cut themselves or make marks and scratches on their skin on purpose. Objects that may typically be used to cut are a razor blade, knife, scissors, metal tab from a soda can, the end of a paper clip, a nail file or a pen. Burning the skin with the end of a cigarette or lighted match is another form of self injury that people who cut may also be involved in. Cuts, scratches and burns are usually made on the wrists, forearms, thighs or belly.
Why do Teens Cut? Cutting is a dangerous and habit forming way that some teens use to express signs of deeper emotional issues. Someone who cuts may not know how to cope with the intense pressures they are facing, bad situations they cannot change and upsetting relationships. They may experience feelings that are too difficult for them to bear and they use cutting as a way to become distracted from these painful emotions.
Emotional pain can seem vague and hard for a teen to pinpoint, talk about or soothe. When a teen turns to a form of self injury like cutting, they are inflicting a physical pain that is specific, they can control, is visible, and may seem preferable to the emotional pain that they cannot get control of.
Most people who cut are not trying to attempt suicide. Cutting is an attempt to feel better, not end their lives.
Cutting can be Addictive: Most teens who try cutting as a way to cope do not intend to keep doing it, but self injury can be addictive. The sense of relief someone feels when they cut releases endorphins-feel good hormones-to the brain. This perceived relief does not last. The troubles that trigger the cutting in the first place remain and the brain will actually crave the false sense of relief each time that tension builds.
The more a person self injures, the more he or she may feel the need to keep doing it, becoming a compulsive disorder. The behavior that may have started as an attempt to feel in control can end up controlling the person who self injures.
What can Parents Do? First of all, it is important for parents to be aware that cutting exists in today’s teen circles. Even if your teen is not involved with using cutting as a coping method, he or she may know someone who does. Recognize the signs. Does your child have unexplained cuts and bruises? Is your child withdrawn or are there any changes in communication, eating and sleeping patterns? Do they wear long sleeves even in hot weather? Do they avoid situations like swimming or P.E. classes where marks on the skin from cutting could be exposed?
If you do discover that your teen is involved in cutting, recognize that this is probably a sign of inner pain that may have never been verbalized, confided or acknowledged before. Listen and speak calmly. Be a person in your child’s life that can be trusted, encouraging open communication. Recognize that the problems your teen faces have seemed too big for them to cope with in another way.
Seek Professional Help. The problem of cutting and the underlying issues that first triggered the cutting cannot be fixed overnight. Seek the help of a professional counselor who can help identify these deeper issues, bring them out and help your teen learn healthy ways to cope.
Sources: Education.com: “Cutting: A Teen Trend on the Rise”: www.education.com/magazine/article/cutting
Kids Health: “Cutting”: www.kidshealth.org/teen/your_mind/mental_health/cutting.com