The first cut: What can you do?
Self harm through cutting is a common and growing phenomenon. Having spoken to parents, a post-‘cutter’ teenage girl and others, I want to share what I’m hearing. Please share this and your experiences.
|How you’ll feel: Cutting is horrifying for parents, and we don’t have much experience of it from our own youth
It’s an almost taboo subject and seen by many as something shameful that you can’t talk to anyone about, even your friends
You might feel alone and terrified
|What’s it all about? It can happen from any age, but usually starts above 9, and affects around two thirds of girls and a third of boys. In the UK around 20K children aged between 10 and 15 are treated on the NHS for self harm. Many more go un-treated
There are some claims that self-harm is as old as time. Even if troubled aristocrats and defiant punks were cutting back in history, this wasn’t a widespread-in-every-secondary-school problem like it is today
|What to do: The cutter doesn’t want you to address the cutting situation, they want you to ask about what’s upsetting them. Try not to flip out or get angry. It won’t help and might even provide the reaction or attention a kid is seeking||Why? Sometimes cutting is to punish you or your partner. Or triggers can include other friends who did it and put images on SnapChat or Instagram, bereavement, relationship breakdown in the home, too much pressure. No one really knows|
|Is my kid mentally ill? Cutting can indicate mental illness. But it doesn’t always. For some girls and boys, it’s a fad or a thing you do to be accepted in a group. However, if you discover cuts on your child keep calm and get your him or her to the GP
Many children grow out of cutting, and some just flirt with it and give it up as their friends realise it’s a bad idea. But you need to check the extent of your child’s expression of hurt. Is it depression? Is it fashion?
From a hygiene standpoint, cuts can become infected, make sure your child knows about the risk of blood poisoning
|Peer pressure: Beware if there’s a deeply troubled child who is friends with yours – s/he can be dangerous when it comes to self-harming
One mum removed her girl from her school to avoid the cutting habit passing to her kid. That sounds harsh, but other children in the class had started to self harm, and her daughter was becoming close to a girl who was encouraging her to join in.
Having said that, we don’t always know much about friends as our kids get older, and when you do it’s impossible to stop them meeting
|What to say and do: If your kid will talk about what’s hurting him or her, listen. Be silent when they stop speaking and draw out more details. Don’t talk about yourself. Eventually, you could talk about some strategies you’ve used to help you in the past. Empathy is good, but your teenager might roll his or her eyes
One mum I spoke to gave her daughter a shoe box and called it her Happy Box and asked her to put into it everything that day that made her happy, printing off cute things from the internet. At least they were speaking, even though the cutting continued
If your child is as disturbed by the cutting as you are and wants to stop, check out the CalmHarm App that cutters can download on their phones to help prevent self harm. The guys who make this have an excellent website with resources for parents
|Solutions: Mental health services for teenagers are often great but have long waiting lists
If you can, raid a bank account (preferably your own) and get some counselling for your kid
Schools can be incredibly helpful and some have free counselling services
Family counselling can work, but it’s not for everyone – sometimes your child needs some one-on-one time with a therapist
Charities like Mind are fab, always worth a ring or email, likewise the Samaritans if you’re feeling uncertain about what to do or alone
You can also find Family/Parenting courses run by charities and councils locally. One person I spoke to mentioned FLASH, available in Essex in the UK
|How should I be? It’s really hard to keep calm if your partner is flipping out. Then you have to cope with him and her too. Promise each other that you’ll both focus on the problem not your reaction to it
If you can, talk to your friends with teenage girls – this problem is common. But be sure they don’t start telling everyone. It’s very sensitive for your child, unless s/he has already made it public
|Should I ignore it? No, no, no. Your child probably will grow out of this, but you have to take it seriously, get down to the GP, and if the GP doesn’t get it or offer help, contact a charity or arrange some counselling for your kid
The good news is that the young women I spoke to grew out of their cutting with no knock on effects for their development or future
The bad news is that social media encourages cutting, and you’d be shocked at the films of children cutting themselves on YouTube. We certainly need some parents to come together and seek to get them offline. If you’re interested in exploring that with me, email email@example.com