Discovering that your child is self-harming is profoundly shocking and upsetting for every parent; but it’s quite likely that your child is self-harming in ways you haven’t even noticed. Plus, they may or may not outgrow it as adults self-injure as well.
Self-harming is an epidemic that affects many people, especially the young: 9% of girls self-harm in the USA and 6.7% of boys reported non-suicidal self-injury. And those numbers don’t reflect the study participants who chose to keep it hidden.
Most of the coverage of self-harm in the media focuses on cutting, referencing children with self-inflicted wounds on their arms. But the reality is, this is only one form of self-harm, and many other forms get overlooked, as do adults who do non-suicidal self-injury.
Signs and symptoms of self-injury may include:
- scars, or a pattern of scars
- fresh cuts, scratches, bruises, bite marks or other wounds
- excessive rubbing of an area to create a burn
- keeping sharp objects on hand
- wearing long sleeves or long pants, even in hot weather
- frequent accidental injuries
- interpersonal relationship difficulties
- behavioral and emotional instability, impulsivity and unpredictability
- statements of helplessness, hopelessness or worthlessness
The following list will help you identify other ways that your child may be self harming:
Most Common: scratching, pinching, cutting, burning, hair pulling, and ripped skin
Less Common and often overlooked: Eating too much/too little, excessive exercise, and self-isolation. These often-overlooked examples are ways that young people self-harm, affect their bodies and their health over longer periods of time.
Another set of behaviors that can be neglected are aggressive tendencies such as: punching walls, getting into fights, and putting themselves in risky situation such as promiscuity.
Why do young people self-harm? The reasons behind self-injury are complex and unique to each child, because each child/adolescent self-harms for different reasons. The most frequent reason was relief from thoughts or feelings (overwhelming emotions). Some of the other most common reasons include schoolwork struggles, loneliness, being bullied, underlying mental health difficulties, and many more everyday stressors.
This illness usually starts in the early teens (but school statistics questionnaires find it common as early as third grade) but can go way into adulthood, and most of the time includes an underlying illness such as depression or anxiety.