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What Parents Need to Know About Cutting

Cutting—or, as it is known in medical circles, self-injury—has gotten a lot of attention over the last few years, and there is a growing awareness that it is a serious issue among teens, not just due to the physical harm it causes but also because it is often a symptom of deeper emotional problems. Still, though the issue is more out in the open than it used to be (and it is not a new thing), many parents are still uncomfortable talking about it.

To put it simply, the phenomenon known as cutting involves intentionally cutting oneself with sharp objects in order to draw blood and make marks. The most common areas of cutting are the wrists, belly, and thighs, and the most common tools used for cutting are razor blades, knives, and scissors. Cutting disproportionally involves girls, but boys are not immune to the phenomenon.

There is good reason why many parents shy away from this issue. To a grownup, this type of self-injury may seem purely irrational, and we might have a hard time imagining our own children engaging in such strange behavior. But that is exactly how so many teens are able to keep the habit hidden from their parents; no parent thinks their child would do this, so they are unlikely to suspect it.

What do kids cut?
There are many reasons why kids cut, but the one factor that cannot be overlooked in most cases is the social element. Many teens are aware that the phenomenon is out there, and it may even have a certain romanticism to the teenaged mind. And when it becomes a social thing that multiple teens engage in, it becomes especially alluring.

But there are other reasons besides peer pressure. Perhaps most important, many teens who cut say they do so to deal with strong emotions. Teens are typically full of inner turmoil, including many feelings they do not understand, and cutting is a way to distract from those feelings while also making the inner pain simple and physical. For some teens, it provides a feeling of self-control, and it can even be a relief.

Meanwhile, cutting has also been described as a sort of addition. Once a teen makes a habit of it, the habit can be difficult to break, and it may become the go-to method for dealing with strong emotions of any kind. And even when the teen resolves to stop cutting, the temptation can come flooding in at moments, making it difficult to resist.

In extreme cases of cutting, the activity might not be simply an outward sign of normal teen turmoil. The behavior is strongly associated with real mental disorders such as anxiety and depression, and it can be a clear sign that a teen is in need of professional help.

What can parents do?
Many teens who cut keep their habit secret and are liable to make excuses or false explanations when confronted about any visible marks. If you suspect your child is cutting but are not sure, talk to her about it without being accusatory. There is a chance she is eager to admit it to someone. If not, just make sure that you are emotionally available and that she knows you are there if she needs help.

Some teens are eventually able to stop on their own, while others need professional help. If you find out your teen is cutting and cannot stop, it is a good idea to seek professional help. It may turn out that the cutting has resulted from peer pressure rather than any deep psychological problem, but it is best to play on the safe side. To help get to the bottom of the problem, have your child speak to a mental health professional.

By Jamell Williams

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