Teenagers cutting themselves
WHATS IN THIS BLOG:
• Teenagers cutting themselves.
• Anxious, depressed, and overwhelmed.
• What are the reasons, and how can parents help.
• Kara’s discovery
Just to clarify: each of my blogs centers on one of three things: (1) Inspiration and Hope, or (2) Science and Energy, or (3) Health and Hiking. The last two blogs about stress and depression and also this one about anxiety of teenagers fall into box number (3). Next week I shall rotate into another box, I promise.
I was shocked, to be honest, by an article in Time Magazine on 7 November 2016, entitled The Kids are not All Right, by Susanna Schrobsdorff, because it talks about teenagers cutting themselves.
MY GRANDSON, JADEN, IS A RUNNING BACK for the Independence Bulldogs. Independence is a small town in SE Kansas. Last Friday night Jaden carried the ball and ran for 80 yards, and scored a touchdown. He’s only a sophomore, but man is he fast! In a small country town like this, everyone talks about high-school football during the Fall semester. When the team wins, everything seems fine in the town and the people are happy. But when the team loses, the coaches are blamed, the refs are accused of bad calls, and talk on the weekend turns a bit grouchy.
IN CONTRAST, DISCUSSION ABOUT KIDS CUTTING THEMSELVES IS TABOO. It’s a secret hidden away. Occasionally it pops up in Facebook and Instagram. But sadly, in many homes the parents don’t know. And in some homes they don’t want to know, and they don’t believe their kids would be doing this anyway. Ignorance and denial walk side by side down the street.
The following is a series of bullets containing excerpts from the Time article:
FAITH-ANN, 17, FROM BANGOR, MAINE.
• American teens are anxious, depressed, and overwhelmed.
• It was 2 am and Faith-Ann sat on the edge of the tub. She sliced into the soft skin near her ribs. There was blood – and a deep sense of relief. “It makes the world very quiet for a few seconds,” she says. “For a while I didn’t want to stop, because it was my only coping mechanism. I hadn’t learned any other way.”
• The pain of the superficial wound was a momentary escape from the anxiety she was fighting constantly, about grades, her future, and about relationships.
• Faith Ann has the marks on her torso and arms, and hid the sadness she couldn’t explain. On paper she had a good life. She loved her parents and knew they’d be supportive if she asked for help. She just couldn’t bear to see the worry on their faces.
• It would be three years before Faith-Ann told her parents about the depth of her distress.
• Cutting was a secret, compulsive manifestation of the depression and anxiety that millions of US teenagers are struggling with.
• The teens hit puberty at a time when technology and social media were transforming society.
• They are in a cauldron of stimulus they can’t get away from, or don’t wat to get away from, or don’t know how to get away from,” according to Janis Whitlock.
• Every fight or slight is documented online for hours or days after the incident. It’s exhausting.
• “We’re the first generation that cannot escape our problems at all,” says Faith-Ann. “All like little volcanoes. We’re getting this constant pressure, from our phones, our relationships.”
• Much of a teen’s emotional life is lived within the small screens on their phones. There is no firm line between their real and online worlds.
• The teens are overexposed to a national forest-fire of Internet drama.
• Zoning out. Ignoring people. Taking and answering calls when in a discussion with a real person.
• Online bullying is affecting kids as early as fifth grade.
• “I couldn’t tell you how many students are being nasty to each other over Instagram or Snapchat,” says Ellen Chance. “I’ve had cases where girls don’t want to come to school because they feel outcasted and targeted. I deal with it on a weekly basis.”
• They might be immersed in a painful emotional tangle with dozens of their classmates. Or they’re looking at other people’s lives in Instagram and feeling self-loathing (or worse). Or they’re caught up in a discussion about suicide with a bunch of people on the other side of the country they’ve never even met via an app that most adults have never heard of.
• “Every single week we have a girl who comes to the Emergency after some social-media rumor or incident has upset her [and then she cut herself],” says Fadi Haddad.
- . Studies have shown a dramatic increase in self-harming in the past two years.
- . Girls are more likely to engage on this self-harming, but 30-40% are boys.
- . People who injure themselves do it to cope with anxiety or depression.
- . Self-harm is tied to how teens see the human body. “A lot of value is put on our physical beauty now,” says Faith-Ann. “All of our friends are Photoshopping their own photos – its hard to escape that need to be perfect.”
- . Some teens feel disconnected or numb. They don’t feel real, and there’s something about pain and blood that brings them into their body.
- . Others feel an overwhelming amount of emotion. They need to discharge those feelings somehow, and injury becomes their way.
WHAT PARENTS SHOULD DO (by Fadi Haddad coauthor of Helping Kids in Crisis.)
• Talk about the real stuff. Find out what keeps them up at night. Find out about their dreams, and what they struggle with.
• Pay attention but don’t smother them. Watch for changes in behavior. Is your outgoing kid now withdrawn? If you’re worried, say so. Show interest without judgement.
• Resist getting angry. Instead, find out what’s going on. Say, “It seems like you’re having trouble. I’m here to help.”
• Don’t put off getting help. If you’re worried, talk to a school counselor, therapist, or doctor.
• Treat the whole family. Sometimes when a kid is in crisis, you have to change the family dynamic. Maybe something about the home environment is stressing the child. Be open to that and getting family counseling if needed.
A CHRISTIAN PERSPECTIVE on finding help for self-harming teenagers may be summarized by something a friend Don Compton once said: “If a teenager gets ahold of God, things can be turned around.” Don confirmed this by his witness to drop-out hippies who lived in the mountains above Santa Fe in the 1970s and 1980s. He saw many, many positive changes in their lives.
MY GRAND-DAUGHTER IS NAMED KARA, AND SHE IS 19 YEARS OLD. Last spring, in her first year at college, she sent the following words in a card to her grandmother. These words are another angle on the struggles (not cutting in this case) that many teenagers are dealing with.
“I was having a tough evening while trying to do my homework and all of a sudden I see the book you and Popper got me. I always struggle with comparing myself to others and not feeling like I’m good enough. So I went to look at the book called Jesus Calling for Graduates, and went to the Worth section where I read a very good page that put me in tears. It made me realize I need to stop judging myself, and that God made me the way I am, and that I have other things to focus on. Such as the better things in life and how I am so blessed. So I just want to thank you for the book and for everything you do for me. I love you so much.”
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I remember the article in Time Magazine very well. It brought up memories of my direct involvement w/ a few teen “cutters” when I worked in the schools as a licensed therapist. For them, it was a way of coping— one student had been emotionally abused and abandoned by her Mother.
Hats off to you, Ian, for drawing attention to this very important topic and address the pain some of these kids are experiencing. Coming out from the shadows of shame and talking about their pain without feeling judged and further shamed is a good first step.
Your beautiful grand-daughter found a way of coping when feeling anxious and overwhelmed.
Thank you for sharing — your point of view as a school therapist is particularly important.
This is a very important topic. My daughter went through a period of cutting when she was about 15. It’s a poorly understood issue. Thanks for bringing it to light!
Thanks for sharing this Karen.
Thanks Ian for addressing a very sensitive and neglected issue. We hear a lot about suicide, but nothing about this subject. I agree the Scriptures and a testimony of the Savior, His teachings, and His Atonement is the sure way of building self worth and acceptance of ourselves; and this is true for adults as well. Knowing who we really are: “children of a loving and faithful Heavenly Father” is paramount in our finding and maintaining true happiness. These truths combined with prayer and service gives us direction, and brings spiritual and personal growth into our lives. Service to others is another neglected subject, which helps us forget ourselves and helps us fulfill the great commandment of “loving our neighbor (everyone) as ourself.”
Thanks Don. I agree. My observation is that teenagers who make their own decision to accept and follow Jesus the Savior are better equipped to stay between the lines…..they have a moral compass.
I love this informative blog. One reason is I like reading about the grandchildren. I thank God that our grandchildren have not had to go through something like cutting themselves. That is so sad. Ian this is another good blog.
Yes, and I do hope this blog raises awareness in some parents who don’t think their children would/could ever cut themselves.