Does Your Teen Cut Herself?

Why would a teenager cut herself? And what can you do to help her?

Yes, the teens who harm themselves this way are mostly girls who are trying to cope with distress in their lives. They turn to cutting as a way of blunting emotional pain. 

Teens who cut themselves with their nails or a razor blade say it dulls their feelings of stress. They may also scratch or hit themselves, or pick at their skin or pull out their hair.

If you recall, being a teenager involves difficult feelings—including being judged constantly or being made fun of or bullied. It may be hard to make friends, or to rebound from losing a friend. Then there’s that whole question of “What should I do with my life?” that looms large.

Some teens also feel more stress than others, either due to their genes or prior traumatic experiences.

Cutting may be a temporary behavior, or it may become a chronic habit that will leave physical and emotional scars. It may also be an indication of suicidal thoughts.

How can you tell if your teen is cutting herself?

Look for unexplained injuries and signs like bandages in waste baskets. Notice if she’s wearing clothes that are inappropriate for the season. Sometimes girls wear long sleeves or pants to cover cut marks even in the heat.

Often they will confide in a friend or sibling.

If you suspect your teen may have this problem, talk to her. Ask if she’s heard of cutting, or if she knows anyone who does it. Ask if she’s thought about doing it herself.

It’s important to react in a nonjudgmental way if you do discover a problem.

Then consider seeking professional help. Counseling could help her cope with her strong emotions, as might medication or a support group.

It can be scary, of course, to learn that a child you love is hurting herself. But it’s also important to know that it doesn’t mean she is mentally ill, and that she can recover from this.

What else can you do?

Treating her with compassion and understanding can help enormously.

Did you know that many teen girls also skip meals? Learn more about this health concern. 

Brooks Michael is an adolescent health educator for Carilion Clinic’s Adolescent and Student Health Services. Learn more about Brooks and her work with teens.