Parenting Matters


What parents should know about cutting

By Efrain Gonzalez, MA, LPC

There is a growing phenomenon in our community today that is hurting our adolescents. This phenomenon is often referred to as "cutting," otherwise called self-injurious behavior. The world can be a scary place for adolescents dealing with a lot of hurt and pain. For parents, it can also be scary when they find out their child is cutting.

Adolescents who are self-injurers usually choose to cut on themselves in order to relieve some type of emotional pain. The adolescents I've worked with usually say things like, "I do it to feel different," or "It's better than feeling angry or depressed all the time." These adolescents are right. When they cut on themselves they get an endorphin rush that makes them feel different.

Adolescents can use any object to inflict a wound on their body. Some teens have used knives, razors, paper clips, staples, glass, forks, tree branches, and even their own fingernails. The most common place to find cuts is on wrists and forearms. Other places include inner thighs, stomach, chest and under breasts. In rare occasions some adolescents cut between their toes and mouth corners.

For parents who may be wondering if their adolescent is a cutter, there are signs to look for. Warning signs may include the following:

  • wearing long sleeves on warm days
  • sudden refusal to wear shorts or a bathing suit
  • abrupt mood changes, depression or extreme anger
  • not wanting to express their emotions
  • isolating themselves in their room
  • Your teen may demonstrate these signs and still not be a "cutter," but they may alert you to another problem and signal that your child needs help.

If you find that your adolescent is cutting on themselves what should you do? Easier said than done, but the first thing is not to "freak out." Otherwise your adolescent may close up even more and it will be more difficult to reach out. Most of the time, cutting is not a sign that they want to kill themselves. It is usually a cry for help.

Parents should make a therapy appointment for their adolescent shortly after finding their child cutting. Therapists can help better understand what is going on and can help make a treatment plan if more intensive help is needed. Through therapy, your adolescent can learn appropriate coping skills to reduce their cutting or self-injurious behaviors and hopefully stop.

If you hear your child saying they do want to kill themselves or die I would recommend an evaluation from a mental health treatment center like Clarity Child Guidance Center immediately. Dial 911 for emergency services.

Self-injurious behaviors or "cutting" can be very scary at times and probably even scarier for the parents. The important thing to remember is help is needed as soon as possible. Once self-injurious behaviors begin it becomes addicting and usually worsens. If you find your adolescent cutting, get them the help they need. Parents please take the time to communicate with your children and be involved in their lives; you may actually prevent big issues like cutting.

Originally featured on the Health Channel.

Related Content:

On-demand Video: Self-harm in Youth

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