One of those heavy parenting subjects no one likes to talk about, cutting has been called an epidemic problem among teenagers, with millions of children cutting themselves with scissors, razor blades, knives, pins… If you’re the parent of a child you suspect of cutting and this first sentence scared you and you want to click away from this page, please stay and keep reading.
You need to know. You need to understand. You need to stop blaming yourself or ignoring the warning signs.
Listen to my recent conversation about kids who cut and how to help.
Why teens cut.
There is no one reason why teens cut. All those feeling during the pre-teen and teen years that you might think would result in anxiety, depression or anger have to be channeled somewhere. Some kids drink alcohol or try other drugs. Some engage in risky sexual behavior. Some estimate that about 1% of teenagers cut.
And for those who cut, the entire subject can be confusing and maddening for them and for those who love them.
If you’re feeling particularly brave, run a YouTube search for “teen cutting”. Before the age of instant access to information online, kids who hadn’t thought of cutting didn’t have the option paraded before them in technicolor. Today, any teenager feeling isolated, misunderstood, bullied, or abused has ready access to the details of cutting as an “option” for releasing their overwhelming emotions. In some cases, teenagers begin cutting as an experiment because their friends are doing it, then show off their scars sometimes as a bid for attention. But most often, teens who cut are experiencing internal chaos that finds expression in a way that will horrify and confuse their parents and other adults who care.
How to help kids who cut.
It goes without saying that parents who discover that their teen is cutting need to pursue help for their child. But how that help manifests itself may not be perceived by your son or daughter as “help”. Probably my most powerful qualification on this subject is that I used to cut, and so has one of my children. So when I say, “There is HOPE”, that isn’t just a theory, it is based on powerful healing work right inside my own family. After working through this at home and working with many families who experienced this heartbreaking challenge, and talking especially to dozens of teenagers who used to cut, I’ve put together a list of ways for parents to help that teenagers say would have reached them.
- Do not blame yourself, or your child. Cutting is not an indictment of your parenting, or a label of your child’s dysfunction. It is a symptom of deeper issues that needs to be addressed gently and with compassion.
- Your child may expect you to ignore the problem. Surprise them. Let them know you see the signs of their internal struggles.
- So few parents ask questions respectfully. Break the mold and ask your teen what’s up. Ask them if any of their friends cut. Ask how cutting helps them feel better, or if it does. Ask them to let you help them find a better way to let out the pain.
- Teens aren’t known for embracing adult solutions. Find teens who used to be cutters who are willing to share their stories. Just like YouTube can be a source of information for your cutter to learn how to hide scars, “do it right”, and keep secrets from parents and teachers, it can also be a powerful place to find solutions and stories of healing. Your teenager is much more likely to relate to a story of freedom from cutting when told by another teen, than to benefit from traditional “talk therapy” or an adult trying to control their behavior.
- Don’t get dramatic. Teenagers who cut already have their own internal drama going on. Don’t add to it. If you’re having a tough time handling your own reaction to your teen’s cutting, get some help for you.
- Teens are desperate to be seen, to be heard. Don’t be too busy to notice. Don’t be so caught up in enforcing rules that you miss the silent screams of pain. Slow down, lower your voice, make eye contact, touch gently.
- Get involved in helping your teen find healthy friends and healthy activities. Teens tend to feel ‘stuck’ in their circle of friends or activities. Celebrate their attempts to break out of an unhealthy relationship or to stand up for themselves against bullying. If your teen’s emotional turmoil is a reaction to your parenting, your relationship drama, your addictions, or some other unhealthy behavior you’re hanging onto that you think your child isn’t affected by, get help for YOU.
- Cutting is rarely a one-time thing. If you noticed, it is likely your teen secretly wanted you to see. SAY SOMETHING! You teen is secretly hoping, praying, that you step in and help them find a better solution.
- If you’re a parent who used to cut when you were younger, go ahead and share your own struggle with your teenager. If you never tried cutting but had other ways of expressing your own adolescent frustration, share that with your teen. It won’t help to say, “I understand just how you feel”, because you don’t. However, you CAN let your teen know that you had your own deep struggles. Teenagers sometimes forget that their parents hurt sometimes too. Just remember that this is not about you.
- There are professionals trained in effective ways to help teen cutters. Don’t wait to see if things get better on their own. Make the appointment. Go yourself if your teen doesn’t agree to go with you. Let your teen know that you will do whatever it takes to help – not out of frantic desperation, but from deep down in your compassionately respectful parent heart.
Cutting is one of those subjects all parents cringe from, hoping their teenager isn’t one of those millions who use cutting to deal with adolescent stress. Lift your eyes and be willing to recognize signs that your teenager is in pain. Ask the tough questions. Find help. Be present with your teenager. If you cut, used to cut, or have a child who cuts, send me a message or get help somewhere. There is hope!
Whether or not you have personally dealt with the issue of cutting, chances are very good that you have been directly affected by someone who does. How can you help? How have you helped? Its hard to talk about cutting; its hard to write about it. But its important. Share your stories of hope here for another parent struggling with the realization that their child is cutting.