We have known for years that cutting or self-mutilation is not entirely uncommon among the teen set. This year estimates have been as high as 14%-that is that 14% of high schoolers have engaged in self-mutilation on at least one occasion. What is even more or at the very least equally concerning are the results of a study conducted by Benjamin Hankin of the University of Denver. I will present you with 5 mind-boggling findings and then we can figure out where to go from there.
1. Close to 8% of third graders had hit, cut, burned or otherwise intentionally hurt themselves at least once.
2. Approximately 4% of sixth graders engaged in similarly harmful behaviors.
3. Approximately 13% of ninth graders engaged in self-harm with the majority of self-injurers being female.
4. The younger kids were most likely to hit themselves.
5. The 9th graders were more likely to cut themselves or to carve their skin.
It seems paradoxical that kids and teens would be harming themselves to relieve emotional distress but this is exactly what they report over and over again. At times, they would rather deal with physical than emotional pain because it serves as a distraction to negative emotions.
And, frequently they don't feel equipped to deal with emotional distress effectively or at all.
I have worked with kids who engage in self harm for over two decades. On a hopeful note, I have to tell you that when teens and kids get good psychological help they often do quite well.
When they learn new and effective ways to cope with negative emotions like anger and frustration the odds are good that the self-harm will drop out of the picture. This is not a pleasant topic but it is nonetheless one that must be taken seriously.
Parents-get your kids help without becoming angry or judging them. This is not easy but I can assure you that it is necessary. Good luck.
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Barbara Greenberg and Jennifer Powell-Lunder are authors of the hit book, "Teenage as a Second Language: A Parent's Guide to Becoming Bilingual." They've set up an interactive website for parents and teens to listen, learn and discuss hot topics and daily dilemmas. You can find it at www.talkingteenage.com.