Children are born into an unfamiliar world. Their parents hope they feel safe and loved, and will always have access to comfort and protection when needed. But no matter how much parents want to protect their children from setbacks, hardships, pain, and heartbreak, they can’t. By the time children reach adolescence, the challenges and stressors they face in the modern world are manifold. Some teens turn to self-harming behaviors for a wide range of reasons. As a parent, you may ask how to stop self-harm in your teen. There are approaches that parents can take to mitigate this behavior and understand what might underlie it. One important approach is self-harm treatment for teens in a professional setting.
Pennsylvania Adult & Teen Challenge (PAATC) has decades of experience treating self-harm in teens. Find out how to stop self-harm, what treatment looks like, how to broach the topic with your teenager, and more by completing this online form or calling 844.442.8673 to speak to one of our staff today.
Self-Harm in Teens
Self-harm is a disorder that can be one of two similar diagnoses, one called non-suicidal self-injury (NSSI) and the other referred to as deliberate self-harm (DSH). Approximately 15% of teens will engage in self-harm at least once. Adults also enact self-harm though NSSI is more common among teens through their early twenties.
Self-harm often comes with co-occurring disorders of either anxiety or depression. The act of self-harming stimulates the brain to release chemicals that briefly soothe extreme stress, unmanageable emotions, and mood swings. Often physical pain redirects the mind away from emotional pain. There is no single reason for people to hurt themselves. For example, some underlying reasons for self-harm are to:
- Soothe angry emotions or rage
- Communicate distress as a way to seek help or support
- Alleviate feelings of depression or loneliness
- Avoid feeling numb
- Reduce stress, anxiety, or panic
- Self-punish and ease feelings of self-hatred
So while one teen may engage in self-harm to feel something, another may do it to hide from unwanted feelings.
How to Stop Self-Harm
As a parent, the way you react to learning that your beloved child is self-harming is extremely important. Your worry is natural. It’s normal, in fact, to feel any number of whirling emotions, from anger to despair—all of it overwhelming. Before you speak or react, take a deep breath and decide your course of action.
Things to remember:
- Teens who self-harm are already dealing with shame and guilt about many things, including their self-harming actions
- They hide their self-harm because of those feelings
- Worry about how their actions will make you feel already looms large for them
- Their self-harm is about them, not you
Messaging to avoid:
- You need to stop right now
- This is all my fault
- How could you do this to yourself?
- Where did I go wrong?
- What is wrong with you?
Those messages reflect your upset and worry but don’t reflect your compassion for them. Wanting to help your child means removing all judgment and fear from your language and behavior toward them.
Messaging to aim for will include both words and actions:
- Sit with them quietly as you listen to whatever they are ready to share at this moment
- Tell them you want to understand and that they can talk to you when they’re ready
- Ask how you can help
- As open-ended questions to help them share. For example, instead of “How could you do this?” ask, “How does it help you?”
- Be there for them
The goal, of course, is to eventually get them to agree to seek professional help, which is going to lead to the best possible outcomes.
Self-Harm Treatment at PAATC
Remind your teen that you take them to the doctor when they have a broken bone or the flu and that getting help for this is no different. When they’re ready, reach out to PAATC so we can talk to you about the range of evidence-based therapies we offer to teens who self-harm.