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6 Teen Cutting Myths Debunked

Teen Cutting | Paradigm Malibu

Cutting is a self-injurious behavior that is often misunderstood. Some parents and caregivers believe that if a teen cuts themselves, it is an attempt at suicide. While other caregivers believe that teens who cut themselves are doing it because it’s a trend among their friends. Yet, cutting and other forms of self-harm are rooted in emotional and psychological distress. Even if a teen started cutting because they heard about a friend doing it, the cutting will likely only continue if it served a teen’s emotional needs in some way.

The point is that many parents don’t understand why a teen would harm themselves and keep doing so. The following article will discuss the many myths that come with teen cutting and other forms of self-injurious behavior. It is an article that is meant to support caregivers in learning more about this unhealthy behavior among teens, as well as how to respond to them in a healthy way.

 

Myths and Facts about Teen Cutting

When parents find out that their teen is cutting, they are often surprised and even shocked. Many parents might ask, “Why would my teen want to hurt themselves?” Parents might also wonder if a friend taught their teen to cut or harm themselves. In fact, self-harming behavior among teens can often remain an enigma among parents. Yet, once parents begin to find out more about self-injurious behavior, they often uncover information that affects the way they respond to their teen.

Below is a list of popular ideas about cutting and self-injury as well as the facts behind them. This information alone can support parents in the way they respond to their teen.

 

Myth #1: Teens who cut themselves really want to end their life.

Although on the outside, it may appear that a teen who is cutting or hurting themselves may want to commit suicide, the truth is, in the majority of cases, suicide is not a teen’s intention. Instead, most teens who hurt themselves are aiming to relieve emotional pain.

 

Myth #2: Teens who cut themselves think they are cool for following a trend.

Most teenagers will do their best to hide this behavior. They are often ashamed about the injury they are inflicting upon themselves and, as a result, will wear long sleeve shirts to cover their wounds. Sadly, this shame and the need to hide what they’re doing only adds to the stress they experience. In fact, their shame and fear often make it harder for teens to speak up and ask for help.

 

Myth #3: Teens who cut themselves do so by choice.

At the start, teens may engage in self-injury by choice. However, because self-harm has a soothing effect, many teens who start will continue if it gives them a means to release emotional tension, relieve guilt, help them feel in control, and other psychological reasons. In fact, approximately only one quarter of adolescents and young adults who have demonstrated self-harming behavior have only done it once. Among those who repeat self-injury, 40% stop within a year and almost 80% stop within five years of starting. Those teens who continue usually gain some emotional or psychological benefit. For this and other reasons, they continue to self-harm despite the shame and fear they experience. (Use this link for additional statistics and facts on self-harm.)

 

Myth #4: A teen should be able to stop cutting when their parents tell them to.

Actually, for many teens, self-injurious behavior can become compulsive and hard to stop. When adolescents cut themselves, endorphins are secreted into the bloodstream and they often experience a numbing or pleasurable sensation. Teens who hurt themselves explain that cutting or harming their own body numbs unpleasant thoughts and feelings and often gives them a high. It is not unlike a high that comes with drug use. Over time, that high can contribute to a psychological dependence and create a compulsive need to continue.

 

Myth #5: The only form of self-injury is cutting.

Any type of behavior that includes the intention to do harm to oneself is considered to be self-injurious behavior. This can include cutting, biting, scratching, burning, pulling one’s hair, and bruising the skin. Self-harm can also include excessive exercise, pinching oneself, increased drinking, sabotaging good relationships, staying in harmful ones, or mixing medication with alcohol and other drugs. A teen can hurt themselves in a variety of ways, and all of it is considered to be self injurious behavior. However, there are common ways that teens hurt themselves, such as teen cutting.

 

Myth #6: Other forms of self-injury aren’t as serious as teen cutting.

All forms of self-injurious behavior should be taken seriously. As mentioned above, teens harm themselves for a variety of emotional and psychological reasons. These can include to feel physical pain, create a lasting sign of distress, as a punishment for perceived failure, release feelings, or cope with strong emotions that might result from trauma or challenging past experiences. Using self-harm as a coping mechanism for anxiety and other strong emotions can be common among some teens. The best way to care for a teen who is exhibiting self-harming behavior is to seek the professional service of a therapist, psychologist, or psychiatrist.

 

How to Respond to a Teen Cutting

Some parents might learn about teen cutting and self harm but still be unclear about how to help their teen. They might still be at a loss about how to support their teen in ending their self-harm. Here are some suggestions that parents should consider when trying to support their teen:
 

  1. Learn about cutting and self harm first. As mentioned above, it’s important that parents learn about cutting and other forms of self harm before approaching their teen. The information learned is sure to play a large part in how parents decide to respond to a teen who is cutting. For instance, once parents learn that teens who cut are doing so often because of an emotional need, they become much more  Instead of seeing self-harm as something to punish, parents might begin to see it as an unhealthy coping tool. In this light, self harm isn’t worthy of punishment. If anything, it’s worthy of support, empathy, and love.
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  3. Try to find out the reason why your teen is cutting. Teens do not harm themselves for empty reasons. Instead, they cut because the self-harm helps them relieve tension or temporarily feel better emotionally. Some experts describe self-harming behavior as similar to opening the lid of a boiling pot – self harm releases a great deal of tension. However, teens and parents should know that self harm provides only a temporary relief.  And because of the psychological high that some teens experience with self-harm, not only is it a temporary relief, it can also be addictive. The point is that when parents uncover the real reason for their teen’s self harming behavior, then they can work with their teen to find healthy new tools to replace self-harm.
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  5. Explore new coping tools for relieving emotional stress. The coping tools you suggest to your teen to substitute for cutting should relate to the reason why your teen harms themselves in the first place. For instance, if your teen is cutting because they feel numb and want to feel more alive, perhaps you and your teen can brainstorm on ways that your teen can feel more excitement in life, such as taking a martial arts class or planning a trip abroad. And if your teen is feeling numb, perhaps an assessment for depression is warranted. On the other hand, if your teen is cutting because of pent up emotional tension, then perhaps your teen can practice relaxation techniques to help manage intense emotional experiences. Also, parents should be aware of sites that promote self-harm and do their best to keep their teen away from these unhealthy sites. Lastly, you and your teen might take the self-injury test together to see where your teen might need support.
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  7. Seek professional support. Lastly, if cutting or other forms of self harm does not come to an end within a reasonable amount of time after you’ve spoken with your teen, then it may be time to get professional help. You might consider seeking out a mental health professional or a self-injury treatment center. With proper treatment, such as medication and therapy, self-harm can be replaced with healthier coping mechanisms that are safe.

 
This article provides information on teen cutting so that parents aren’t left in the dark about what to do. It’s important that parents get professional support if they feel helpless when it comes to providing support for their teen. In fact, seeking out a mental health provider may be supportive for both parents and teens who exhibit self-harm.

Dr. Nalin is a Licensed Clinical Psychologist, and Founder and Executive Director of Paradigm Treatment Centers, who has been a respected leader in the field of adolescent mental health for more than 20 years. He received his undergraduate degree from the University of Southern California, his Master’s degree from Loyola Marymount University, his Doctoral degree from Pacific University’s APA approved Clinical Psychology program, and completed his training at the University of California, San Diego’s APA approved psychology internship program.

Dr. Nalin has provided training and mentoring to students entering the field of psychology at institutions of learning including Pepperdine University’s Graduate School of Education and Psychology, UCSD, Pacific University, and Santa Monica College. He was also instrumental in the development of the treatment component of Los Angeles County’s first Juvenile Drug Court, which now serves as a national model.

Dr. Nalin has appeared as an expert on shows ranging from CBS News and Larry King, to CNN, The Today Show and MTV. He was also featured in an Anti-Drug Campaign for the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP).

Dr. Nalin is a Diplomate of the National Institute of Sports Professionals and a Certified Sports Psychologist as well as a Certified Chemical Dependency Intervention Specialist. He lectures and conducts workshops nationally on the issues of teen mental health, substance abuse prevention, and innovative adolescence treatment.

In 2017 Dr. Nalin was awarded The Sigmund Freud Foundation and Sigmund Freud University’s Distinguished Achievement Award in recognition of his work with youth in the field of mental health over the course of his career.

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