Teenagers and Self Harm: Some Questions to Ask Adults

Something like an epidemic seems to be happening among young women (ages 12-19) and young men as well. Youth from all segments of society are engaging in self injury in record numbers. They seem to be telling the story of trauma inside the family as well as beyond it.

Maybe this generation of teens is using self-harm (see our section on Depression under Problems), to let adults know that there is so much violence, so much invasion of the body, so much lack of protection in the culture, that there is no other way to signal the level of danger they perceive around them.

Self-injury among teens is more than a fashion statement or a way to be cool; it is very dangerous. Young women and young men die from substance misuse, starvation (see our detailed information on Anorexia in Problems), and self-injury all too often. Sometimes they intend to die, but more often they do not. If the trauma reenactment does not prove deadly, it can create permanent injury, permanent criminal records, and permanent loss of freedom and happiness.

Questions youth could ask the adults (therapists, counselors, teachers, relatives) in their lives who are trying to help:

  • Can you trust that I will stop harming myself when I have become part of a community of my peers where I feel safe?
  • Can you help me explore the idea that they were wrong to harm me at a pace I am comfortable with?
  • Can you help me tell my story even when I don’t have words for it?
  • How could you do this?
  • Can you help me find new ways to relate to my body?
  • If we have different ideas about my problem, can you validate my ideas about why I do this ?
  • Can you support my primary need to be in community with my peers?
  • Can you support my healing in primary connection with my peers?
  • Can you work with me as a team to fight the self-harm?
  • Can you trust that I will stop cutting, burning, or other self-harm when I have learned to trust other ways to tell my story?

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