Why do children cut, burn, hit or poison themselves? The cause is often a feeling of despair or untreated mental illness and depression.
And it’s a growing issue among pre-teens and teens. Nearly 2 million cases of self-harm are reported each year, but the actual number may be higher, as a majority of those engaging in self-injurious behavior (SIB) conceal their activity.
According to updated data on self-harm from HealthyPlace.com
- One in five females and one in seven males engage in self-harm yearly
- Ninety percent of those who engage in self-harm begin in the pre-teen or teen years
- Nearly 50 percent have been sexually abused
- Many learn how to inflict harm from friends or pro self-injury websites
Why do they do it? Tamara Hill, MS, NCC, LPC-PE is a therapist and columnist for www.PsychCentral.com who works with children and adolescents, and she asked them. From their responses, she concluded there are three main reasons.
Internal Pain. Kids are looking for a way to cope with their feelings. They are often emotionally unstable and impulsive, and can also be depressed, anxious or uncertain about their lives. “These pinned-up (sic) emotions must come out in some form or fashion and it often comes out in self-harm.” While this behavior can seem harmful and scare adults, teens who engage in SIB don’t see it that way. Many of them fail to even recognize they are abusing themselves.
Distraction. Self-injuring can distract kids from their pain or disappointment in something. According to Hill, “Some kids have reported that the sight of blood makes them initially feel calmer, more in control, and sometimes even content.”
Attention-seeking. Teens who feel a lack of love, attention or compassion may use self-harm to create alarm, and gain the attention they need. Hill notes that this type of behavior is more frequent with teenagers who have borderline personality traits.
The first step in helping kids who self-abuse is noticing that they do it. To assist in this, the Adolescent Self-Injury Foundation has compiled a list of warning signs.
- Wearing long sleeves or long pants regardless of the season.
- Refusing to wear sleeveless or short sleeve tops, shorts, bathing suits.
- Refusing to go swimming.
- Avoiding exposure of certain body parts or demanding privacy when getting undressed
- Wearing wrist warmers or wristbands to cover the wrist.
- Wearing gloves that have the fingers cut off or wearing socks on hands with holes cut out for the fingers, thus covering the entire hand, wrist, and forearm.
- Wearing inches of bracelets that cover wrists and refusing to remove them.
- Putting thumb-holes in sweatshirts so hands and arms remain covered.
- Carrying around or hiding knives, scissors, razors, box cutters, shards of glass, safety pins, tacks, or needles in a bedroom, backpack, clothing, or shoes.
- Suffering frequent accidents.
- Exhibiting cuts that are parallel in a shape, design, pattern, or words
- Blood found on towels, bed sheets, or used tissues.
- Wearing a large razor blade around the neck as a necklace.
- Frequently exhibiting bruises, scratches, cuts, burns, broken bones or bandages; and offering flimsy excuses such as: “A cat scratched me,” or “I was climbing a fence.”
While the majority of SIB cases are not lethal, they can be dangerous, and are always a sign of some deeper issue.
BeAKidsHero™ is an initiative to educate parents, teachers and other caring adults around the globe about protecting the children in their lives from abuse and neglect. Founded by Child Advocate and Child Forensic Interviewer Ginger Kadlec, www.beakidshero.com spotlights child protection best practices and tips, as well as features a host of resources and information about issues related to child abuse awareness, prevention and intervention ranging from child sexual abuse facts and prevention to cyberbullying, sextortion and Internet safety. Parents are invited to participate in a free three-part video training series about protecting kids of all ages from sexual abuse. To enroll, visit www.sexualabusepreventionsystem.com.
The BeAKidsHero™ column on CW NEWS is released biweekly on Tuesdays.