You just found out your teen is self-harming. Your heart drops to the pit of your stomach. You feel shocked, confused, and utterly lost. What now?
You are not alone. About 17% of teenagers have engaged in self-harm at least once according to the American Psychological Association. Often times, self-harm occurs as a way to cope with distressing feelings or situations. Teens who self-harm are not intending to die but are desiring relief. It may seem counterintuitive to be harming oneself as a way to get relief but it is true. Many teens lack the knowledge or skills to effectively cope in healthy ways. Therefore, they turn to self-harm as a way to distract and overwhelm their internal pain with external pain.
Self-harm is common among teens but in particular those in middle-school age groups. There are different forms of self-harm from skin cutting, burning, to head banging or hitting as stated by Mental Health America. Teens may pursue this unhealthy coping as a way to deal with anxiety, bullying issues, or intense feelings of sadness. Self-harming is an incredibly shaming behavior as a result teens self-harm in less visible places such as their upper thigh, arms, or wrists and hide their visibility.
As a parent all you want to do is protect and stop this self-destructive behavior. Here are few steps on how to help your teen after your discovery.
Engage with love not fear tactics
It is important to engage your teen after discovering this unhealthy behavior. Be a parent with a listening and understanding ear. Self-harming teens are experiencing high distress along with shame and guilt. Refrain from judgement, shame, and fear based approaches. He or she is already struggling and adding anger and judgement will only push them to hide from you further.
Pursue an immediate plan of action
Self-harm is not an issue to be taken lightly. Even though many teens are not intending to harm for suicidal purposes that does not mean serious and irrevocable damages cannot be done. Furthermore, teens will not necessarily stop the behavior even after parental discovery . Your teen is self-harming for a reason. It is their way of coping and if their coping is not replaced with a healthy alternative than they will return to this destructive behavior. Self-harming behaviors are too risky to be left alone.
Begin Counseling Services
Pursue counseling services from a licensed professional counselor such as Licensed Mental Health Counselors, Social Workers, Marriage & Family Counselors. These professionals are familiar with this area and can help your teens learn healthier coping skills to decrease distress and eliminate self-destructive behavior. It is important for your teen to connect with their counselors as well. If there is no true connections, you or your teen may not see true or lasting progress.
Create a team of support
Other professionals that can help to your teen include psychiatrists/psychiatric nurses and a trusted school personnel. At times, a teens’ emotional issue can be so severe that medication is needed for a time period. Your teen may not be taking medication forever but it can be a tremendous aid in helping your teen improve while attending talk-therapy. You can have your teen evaluated by a psychiatrist or psychiatric nurse. These medical professionals specialize in medications dealing with mental health issues and have more knowledge then your regular pediatrician or family doctor.
Lastly, having a trusted school personnel for your teen is important in order to give them consistent and accessible support while at school. This personnel can be a close teacher, coach, or school counselor. If the school personnel is informed even of bare minimum information that your teen is going through some distressing times, he or she can check in on your teen as well as be a safe haven for them. Teens experience most of their distress while in school so why not allow them have a person of safety during their emotional upset.
It can be devastating and terrifying to find out this horrifying information. But, this situation is not hopeless. Many teens have eliminate self-harming behaviors and learned healthier coping skills. It is never too late to get help. Call me today at Life Counseling Solutions at 407-622-1770. I have extensive history working with teens especially those in crisis. I am happy to help walk you and your teen out of this dark time.
About Colleen: Colleen values the importance of a comfortable and non-judgmental atmosphere. At the heart of her work, she seeks to create a safe environment in which clients can feel at ease while working through life’s difficulties. Her specialty is working with women and adolescents struggling with anger management, trauma, and anxiety. She also enjoys assisting those facing multicultural or race-related issues. Ultimately, her goal is to help clients uncover the source of their distress so that they can begin to heal. See Colleen’s full bio.