Self-harm behavior is a serious issue that afflicts many teenagers. According to HealthyPlace, nearly 90 percent of those who self harm begin during their teenage or adolescent years, and approximately 2 million cases are reported each year in the US. It is likely that the rate of occurrence is actually much higher because many cases go unreported.
Teens self harm because they are attempting to cope with internal turmoil, emotional stress or an unmanaged psychological, mental or social disorder. It is also important to note that there are distinct differences between self harm and suicidal behavior, and each behavior has its own pathology.
If your teen is struggling with self harm, here are a few ways you can help them disassociate from these habits and seek healthy stress relief.
1. Remain Calm and Collected
As a parent, it is natural to be extremely upset and worried if your teen is engaging in self harm behavior. Do your best to work through those initial reactions of shock and anger on your own, before you approach your teen about the topic. Setting the tone with a calm demeanor will make him or her more likely to open up. Your role is to diffuse stress and offer solutions and support, not add extra stress to an already charged situation.
2. Enlist A Professional
Self harm is not run-of-the-mill teenage angst, it is a serious problem that likely requires the guidance of trained professionals. When tackling this tricky topic, you don’t have to go it alone. Psychologists, counselors and therapeutic treatment programs, not only have the clinical background necessary, they also have experience working with other teens who have successfully disassociated with the behavior.
3. Uncover The Underlying Trigger
When you talk to your teen about self harm, instead of focusing on the act itself, talk to them about the thoughts or feelings that lead them to self harm. It could be stress from school, strain in a family or friend relationship, coping with past abuse, depression, anxiety, etc. Self harm is a symptom of a deeper problem and addressing the core issue is the only way to disassociate from the behavior.
It is also important to understand that statistically speaking, most self harm is not premeditated. Most of the time it happens in response to a trigger or an event. Research shows that adolescents who injure themselves often do so impulsively with less than an hour of planning.
4. Seek Out Support Groups
While talking to your teen about the topic and showing them love and support is crucial, sometimes talking about it with an unbiased outsider can be extremely helpful. Look up support groups in your area or online. Support groups are great because they will help your teen feel less alone and provide examples of others who have learned how to deal with their emotions in a healthy way.
5. Offer Self-Soothing Behaviors
Overcoming a self harm habit is about more than just stopping the unhealthy behavior, it’s about replacing negative coping mechanisms with healthy habits. Work with your teen to find an activity that helps them relieve stress and deal with negative emotions. It might be exercise, sports, music, reading, meditation, therapy, talking to a friend, the outdoors, etc. Don’t give up!