“Why does my teenager cut themselves? How can my child cut themselves? What does cutting mean? Is my child suicidal because they are cutting? How can I help my teenager to stop cutting?”

The Fear

One of the most frightening things a parent can find is their teenager cutting themselves. They may have small marks on their arms, legs, or abdomen. Or you may find sharp objects in their room. Noticing bloody tissues frequently in the trash is also another strong sign your child may be cutting. This can be a very frightening discovery for a parent. But this is not a suicide attempt. This a cry for help. Today we are going to discuss what cutting is, how to help, and what to do next.

Don’t Panic

It sounds counterintuitive, but don’t panic if you find your teen is cutting. Although this behavior is extreme and disturbing to most parents, it is not always suicidal behavior. Cutting is a type of self-harm along with scratching, hitting, burning, or hair pulling. These are actually coping skills even though they often are misguided. Teenagers who engage in self-harm are trying to relieve themselves of pressures. Or perhaps from emotions they are unable to manage in healthy ways. Some report they harm themselves to feel the pain that reminds them they are still alive. Specifically in major depression or states where they feel numb or disconnected.

Most teens hide cutting behaviors. And don’t want anyone to know, not even friends. They wear clothing or jewelry that covers their scars or cut on the inner thigh, where no one would notice. Cutting behaviors can release endorphins. And some people report getting a feeling of euphoria right after cutting. This feeling can be fully engrossing. And, due to this, cutting can be habit-forming. Sadly, many people underestimate the risks of getting seriously sick or hurt that go along with it.

How to Help

Self-harm behaviors can also be a cry for help or attention. Any teen caught engaging in self-harm should be evaluated for any additional suicidal tendencies. If there is no intent or plan to commit suicide, therapy can be a very effective way to learn alternative coping skills. And to gain comfort with labeling and expressing emotions. It is important to remember that cutting is a symptom, not a core issue. And in a world where teens are under increased pressures and unrealistic ideals, they can succumb to unhealthy coping skills.

If you find that your teenager is cutting or engaging in self-harm make sure you are calm when you confront them. Remember that they are struggling with managing emotions. And may have labeled themselves negatively because of this. Try to take a non-judgmental stance and focus on validating their feelings. Do this rather than trying to argue them or immediately change their behavior. Don’t be surprised if your child resists talking to you. This is hard for them and they often are good kids who hold themselves to high standards. Stay calm and patient until they are ready to talk. And lastly, don’t ignore the child or problem and hope that it will just go away.

Here are Some More Ideas of How Parents Can Help:

  • Teaching your children healthy ways to express negative emotions. Get comfortable with uncomfortable discussions! Lead by example and keep an open-door policy with emotional issues.
  • Really know your child. Don’t assume anything! Take time to check in with their world. Keep an eye out for bullying or trauma that may have occurred.
  • Talk to your child. Communication is key. Let them know that you love them unconditionally and are there to help.
  • Don’t focus on the self-injurious behavior, but rather the emotions behind it. These overwhelming feelings can make a forming mind feel lost and confused. Help teach them effective, healthy coping skills.
  • Don’t feel guilty or make your child feel guilty. This isn’t something either of you wants. It just is.
  • Make it a team effort to seek out a counselor that your child feels comfortable opening up to and allow them the opportunity to work on building emotional regulation skills.

If You Need More Support, Call Us!

With the right treatment, love and support your child can get through this. Don’t hesitate to seek professional help at any time. School staff, your child’s doctor or even clergy can be a good place to start. Find someone you feel comfortable working with. This is a difficult topic and you will need support along with your child.

We have several therapists on staff with significant experience in these issues. Connect with us in either of our locations in the South Hills of Pittsburgh. We are currently accepting a limited number of new patients, so contact us here. And make sure to check out our videos to learn more about how we can help you help your cutting teenager.


* This information has not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This information is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease. Please contact a medical professional for advice.