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Stay Calm in the Face of a Self-Harming Teen

Stay Calm in the Face of a Self-Harming Teen


The discovery that your teenager is self-harming can be alarming. Self-harm among young people, after all, can be distressing and difficult to understand.  It can confuse, shock, even scare you. It may allow you to lose your calm or react harshly. These reactions are valid, even understandable, but can be unproductive, because they may hinder making a positive difference in the life of your teen.

Under such circumstances, staying calm can be your best response, but it may not be easy. The challenge is: how can you remain cool and collected when you discover that your teen is self-harming? There could be no single, forthright answer, but it is imperative to be calm and to be armed with knowledge. Awareness will propel you in the right direction and decision-making ability in understanding the issue and seek help from a qualified professional to provide timely and proper assistance for your teen.


Teen Self-harm: It’s a Rising Concern

You may not have been aware of teen self-harm before, so it may come as a surprise that it is an ever-increasing behavior and it is affecting younger people more and more. According to the National Institute for Care and Excellence, self-harm among children and teens is fast growing in many countries around the world. Mental Health America (MHA) statistics reveal that about 15 to 35 percent of teenagers in the United States report some form of self-harm. Though it is often a case of “nonsuicidal self-injury” or NSSI, the risks remain, of not knowing how it can impact their health and life in the long run.

The twenty-first century has given rise to many improvements, but it has also given rise to many challenges. Despite the modern attitudes of millennial parents and teens, many still don’t openly or comfortably talk about self-harm. Many teenagers would rather keep it to themselves. If their parents know about it, many would likely not discuss it openly or seek help from an outsider, especially if they feel guilty. It isn’t uncommon for guilty parents to see it as a sign of parental shortcoming or something that they have unconsciously initiated.

As a result, many parents are not prepared to face their teenager’s issue. The lack of knowledge and preparation, not to mention the risks, are the reasons why self-harm can be difficult to address. To change that or maintain your calmness, understanding self-harm among teens is the right approach. Foremost are the reasons why teens engage in this unhealthy behavior, the symptoms to watch out for, and the ways to help your teen.


Behind Teen Self-Harm

Self-harm has no single explanation. Its causes span across many socioeconomic and cultural levels. This means it can be triggered by a variety of factors or reasons. The ones with greater tendencies toward the behavior are those who are more introverted or those who have difficulty talking about their emotions and inner turmoil. These kind of personality traits, along with the added pressures of adolescence, can result in their being more vulnerable to self-harm.  The self-induced pain they may physically experience is a distorted and unhealthy way of trying to cope with an underlying issue.

The discovery of the act itself of self-injury could be accidental or something they learned from their peers.  As they attempt to mask their unpleasant thoughts and feelings, they can be deceived into doing it more often, until it becomes a fixation. This behavior can then become a false “crutch” each time they are emotionally hurt or confused. The latter can happen when your teen feels rejected, unloved, or they have a poor self-image, so they may start to feel hopeless, unsure, angry, guilty, or distressed.


The Symptoms to Spot  

Self-harm can be viewed as a survival strategy of your adolescent child. It does not change the fact, nevertheless, that it is a dangerous behavior. As a parent, you can motivate your child to open up and share their fears, thoughts and insecurities. Whether they reach out for your help or not, it is critical to recognize the symptoms of self-harm.

This can be challenging, though, considering they are likely to hurt themselves in secrecy. They will “cover their tracks” by wearing long sleeves or close themselves off from others while self-harming. Social withdrawal is common, but even this is not a reliable indicator because not all those who self-injure are withdrawn. How can you unmask the symptoms? What then are the red flags to watch out for?

The American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy (AAMFT) offers these signs that your teenager is engaged in self-harming behavior:

  • Cut or burn marks on their arms, legs, and abdomens
  • Finding knives, razor blades, box cutters, and other sharp objects hidden in the teen’s bedroom
  • Regularly locking herself or himself up in the bedroom or bathroom following a bad day at school, negative encounters with peers, and family conflicts for lengthy periods of time
  • The family physician, a teacher, or other adult observes cut or burn marks, or that the teen appears to be regularly removing bodily hairs
  • The teen’s peers cut or burn themselves.
  • Reports from a sibling indicating that he or she found blood encrusted razors or caught the teen in the act of self-injuring


Tempering Your Reaction

Teen self-harm isn’t something that you can take lightly. It can be confusing or overwhelming to your child, not to mention the many risks it can bring about. To help your self-harming teen, let a caring counselor independently contracted with Carolina Counseling Services in Cameron, NC – on Hwy 87, near Linden Oaks, offer professional treatment.

Counseling can help more than your self-harming child, but you and your whole family as well. While it is expected to feel scared, guilty, angry, or frustrated, you can emerge from whatever is holding you back and react to your teen’s silent plea for help with understanding. You are their haven and protector; screaming, being shocked, or visibly shaken can add to the difficulty of the situation. What they need is your strength, wisdom and support. To help them through this difficulty, being calm and focused can allow for the openness necessary for the needed encouragement.

Take comfort in the fact that, as an effective parent, staying calm under the circumstances and remaining hopeful in the knowledge that self-harm behavior is treatable with professional intervention. Take the first step to help your child by seeking the help of a professional therapist independently contracted with Carolina Counseling Services in Cameron, NC – on Hwy 87, near Linden Oaks.  Call now to make an appointment!

Serving Areas: Carolina Counseling Services – Cameron, NC

Counties: Harnett County

Areas: Cameron NC, Linden Oaks NC, Sprout Springs NC, Anderson Creek NC, Olivia NC, Pineview NC, Johnsonville NC, Spring Lake NC

Zip Codes: 28326, 28327, 27332, 28394

Rose Thomas, MA, LPC, LCAS, NCC

Specializes in: (Ages 5+) Children, Teens, Individuals, Couples and Families. Anxiety, Depression, ODD (Oppositional Defiance Disorder, ADHD, Relationship Issues, Marriage Counseling, Parenting, PTSD/Trauma Recovery, Acute Stress Disorder, Adult Sexual Abuse Survivors, Adjustment Disorders, Depressive Disorders, Persistent Depressive Disorder, Bipolar and Related Disorders, Self-injurious/Self-Harm, Generalized Anxiety Disorder, Panic Disorder, Agoraphobia, Separation Anxiety, Disruptive Disorders, Conduct Disorder, Marital Conflict and Discord, LGBT, Substance Use Disorders
 Insurance: BCBS, Tricare, Tricare Prime, Tricare Select, Extra, Retired, Cash, HSA and FSA accepted (credit cards accepted)
 Credit Cards: Visa, Mastercard, Discover and American Express


Specializes in: (Ages 4+) Children, Individuals, families, PTSD, Trauma, Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) Adjustment Disorder, ADHD, Depression, Anxiety, communication skills, and Parenting Skills, Behavior Management, Life transitions, Family Conflict, Difficulty Coping, Relationship Problems, Depression, Anxiety

InsuranceBCBSTricare, Cash, HSA and FSA accepted and Apple Pay

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Shirlisa Daniels, MS, LPC, NCC

Specializes in: (Ages 4+) Children, Teens, Adults and Individuals, Families, Anxiety Disorders, Depression, Panic Disorder, Bipolar Disorder, ADHD, ODD, PTSD, Relationship Issues, Conflict Resolution and Life Transitions
Insurance: BCBS, Tricare, Cash (credit cards accepted)
 Credit Cards: Visa, Mastercard, Discover and American Express

Holly Ring, LMFT

Specializes in: (Ages 7+) Adolescents, College Students, Individuals, Couples, and Families, Anxiety, Depression, Trauma (child and adult, TFCBT certified), Relationship Issues, Coping Skills, Adjustment Disorders, Life Transitions, Suicidal Ideation, Self-esteem, OCD, ADHD, Behavioral Issues, Parenting Skills, LGBTQ
Insurance: BCBS, Tricare, Cash (credit cards accepted)
 Credit Cards: Visa, Mastercard, Discover and American Express

How Do I Set Up my FIRST Appointment?

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Carolina Counseling Services - Cameron, NC
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Cameron, NC 28326

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Fayetteville, NC 28311

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