It typically starts in middle school and can continue for years if it goes untreated and the trend is growing: self-abusive behavior among teens.

(prudkov, ThinkStock)

One percent of the population, between 2 and 3 million people, inflict harm on themselves.  That includes people with eating disorders like anorexia or bulimia, but it also includes those who self-injure or cut. While both boys and girls cut themselves, it is more prevalent among girls between the ages of 13 and 19. One in every 200 girls in that age group hurt themselves and one half of 1 percent do it on a regular basis.

The reasons teens inflict harm on themselves differs from one person to another, but it is usually always a coping mechanism, according to Mary Vineis, director of community response and education at NewBridge Services.

"Everyone's reason for cutting is individualized, but it can be a way for someone to release negative emotion or to feel something.  It can be something that someone uses to create a change or a reaction in someone else," she said.

Other reasons include:

  • Youth entering into intimate relationships at an age where they may not be prepared for the emotional intensity.
  • Lack of knowledge of healthy self-soothing skills.
  • High stress levels of work/school environments.
  • Powerful communication aspects of self-injury.
  • Sense of control.

What can a parent do upon learning that their child is self-injuring? React calmly and try to talk about it.

"It is very important to not have an over-the-top reaction. Ask them about it and try to figure out what is creating this need in them to take part in this behavior," Vineis said. "You don't want to get into a power struggle because you won't win and that won't help anyone.  Tell them you want to try and work on it together and become a partner with them.  Don't come across as the opposing force."

Seek professional help in how best to handle the situation. Usually, when a teen is taking part in self-abusive behavior, there is an underlying cause that is creating the need.

"You have to find out where it's coming from and address that in order to create a change," Vineis said.

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