Teen Behavior Self Harm

Self-harm (sometimes called “self-mutilation” or “self-injury”) is the practice of deliberately inflicting physical pain or injury to oneself. Because it is an activity often performed in private and kept secret, the prevalence of this habit is difficult to estimate, but as many as 2 to 3 million Americans may engage in self-mutilation, according to PsychCentral (2009). Teenagers are the most susceptible age group for this activity–some studies show that 10 percent of teenagers have at least experimented with some kind of self-harm (Shapiro, 2010).

Common methods of self-harm include:

  • Biting
  • Branding
  • Burning (often with a cigarette)
  • Cutting
  • Head banging
  • Hitting
  • Pinching
  • Pulling at skin or hair.

Of those teenagers that regularly engage in self-harm, an estimated 64 percent use cutting as their preferred method, according to a 2001 study conducted at the University of Oxford’s Centre for Suicide Research.

Parents must understand the difference between self-harm and self-decoration. Many teenagers decorate themselves with piercings or tattoos. These decorations are not normally considered deliberate self-mutilation. Teenage behavior that includes excessive decoration may, however, indicate a susceptibility to self-harm. Teens that indulge in excessive self-decoration should be watched carefully for further worrisome behavior.

Reasons Teenagers Use Self-Harm

Rather than indicating a suicidal tendency, self-harm (and self-cutting in particular) is most often used as a coping mechanism. When feelings become too much to bear, teenagers may become introverted and consider or experiment with self-harming. Recent research finds that the two main emotions felt by those who harm themselves are anger and anxiety (Simeon