7 Signs Your Teen Needs Professional Counseling

As parents of teens, sometimes it is hard to determine what could be a sign of a serious problem and what is a normal part of growing up.

7 Signs Your Teen Needs Professional Counseling

According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, a nationwide survey of students in grades 9 – 12 found that 16% of students reported considering suicide, 13% created a plan, and 8% reported a suicide attempt in the year preceding the survey. About 157,000 adolescents between the ages of 10 and 24 receive medical care for self-inflicted injuries across the US. How do you know what is a sign of a serious problem and when to seek professional counseling for your teen?

  1. Depression

Many teens suffer from mild depression on and off throughout adolescence, but when it persists for long periods of time or is coupled with self-esteem issues, anxiety, or tumultuous life events, it may be time to seek professional help. The Center for Young Women’s Health recommends monitoring depression signs for two weeks, and if symptoms do not lift, it is more than just sadness or mood swings.

  1. Substance Abuse

Substance abuse, an issue on its own, is often seen in conjunction with other mental health issues such as depression and low self-esteem. Your adolescent may be trying to cope with these issues by self-medication with recreational drugs, which will only make the issues worse. Anytime substance abuse is present, it is time for counseling.

  1. Eating Disorders

Signs of eating disorders are changes in eating habits, hiding food, binging and purging, or making excuses not to eat. Like many other health issues, eating disorders are often the result of other mental health problems, and can cause physical health issues as well.

  1. Angry Outbursts

An inability to control their temper or having angry outbursts over small matters are signs of larger mental health issues. It is usually a cover for emotional pain and depression, but may just be a sign that your teen has not learned healthy outlets for emotions. Either way, professional counseling may have great benefits for your adolescent in teaching them healthy coping mechanisms.

  1. Isolation

Having a social life is important for being healthy emotionally for everyone, and especially adolescents. If your teen is isolated from his or her peers, it could lead to depression and self-esteem issues. If they are isolating themselves intentionally, it could be a sign these mental health issues are already present.

  1. Physical Health Problems

Stress, depression, and anxiety can cause stomach problems, high blood pressure, and heart problems. When mental health issues are left untreated, they can cause severe physical health problems as well. These symptoms of emotional issues shouldn’t be ignored.

  1. Self-Harm

Signs of self-harm are often the biggest warning signals parents should watch out for. Whether or not a suicide attempt has taken place, self-harm is indicative of severe emotional health issues and professional counseling should be sought after.

If you think your teen’s mental health might be at stake, seek help right away. Mental health is just as important as physical health and should be taken seriously.


3 Questions About Self-Injury You Should Be Able to Answer as the Parent of a Teen

March was Self-Injury Awareness Month, which is a time reserved each year to increase awareness of teenage self-injury, and help teens who suffer from this harmful compulsion to feel supported enough to seek help.

3 Questions About Self-Injury You Should Be Able to Answer as the Parent of a Teen

While March is a month dedicated to awareness and support for those practicing self-injury, this is a condition that can impact your teen any time of the year. As the parent of a teenager, you undoubtedly want your teen to be safe and healthy as they continuously grow and mature toward adulthood.

Here are three questions about self-injury that you should know how to answer so you can make sure your teen is living a safe and healthy life, and is not inflicting harm upon themselves:

  1. What is Self-Injury?

According to the Mayo Clinic, self-injury is the non-suicidal act of purposefully and repeatedly harming your body through some type of mutilation. This condition can present in many forms, such as:

  • Cutting slits into the surface of the skin, and drawing blood
  • Burning the skin with lighters, matches, or cigarette butts
  • Punching or hitting yourself
  • Picking at skin to the point of bleeding
  • Drinking harmful liquids such as paint, glue, or bleach
  • Pulling large portions of hair out of the head
  • Excessive exercise or starvation attempts
  • Excessive alcohol or drug use

Teens who self-injure often do so to achieve an emotional release from feelings of stress, anxiety, sadness, or rejection.  While self-injury is not an attempt at suicide, it can have lasting mental and physical health implications is left untreated.

  1. What are signs my teen might be hurting themselves?

Due to feelings of fear or shame, most teenagers will not usually come forward or seek help for their self-injury habit. However, there are some signals and symptoms of this harmful disorder that you can know and recognize to help keep your teen safe from themselves, and intervene should you discover they are harming themselves.

According to the National Health Service, these are the most common signs of self-injury:

  • Unexplained burns, cuts, bruises, or scabs on the body (particularly on the wrists, arms, legs, and stomach)
  • Patches of missing hair that look to have been pulled out
  • Wearing long sleeves, even in hot weather
  • Loss of interest in school, family, or friends
  • Depression or self-loathing
  • Self-blame and expressions of feeling inadequate or unworthy
  • Unusual weight loss or weight gain
  • Changes in eating or sleeping habits
  • Drug or alcohol abuse


  1. How can I help my teen if I suspect they are practicing self-injury?

If you begin regularly noticing any of the symptoms of self-injury, it is important to intervene and try to help your teen immediately.  Mental Health America suggests the following things you can do to help your teen if you think they are purposefully injuring themselves:

  • Don’t wait for your teen to come to you. Bring up the topic yourself, and express love and support for your teen.
  • Listen to your teen, and encourage them to speak openly with no fear or shame.
  • Let your teen know they are not alone and that they can get better, and offer options for helping them overcome self-injury actions.

While self-injury is not typically an attempt to commit suicide, teens can easily take their self-injury too far, and seriously harm themselves. It is very important that you seek professional help for your teen if they continue to injure themselves after you’ve intervened and tried to help as a parent. A professional counselor or therapist can help you both deal with your emotions, and get back to leading a healthy, safe life.



Teen Cutting: Everything You Should Know as the Parent of a Teenager

As your teen is developing and begins to experience more complex emotions within themselves, they will look for support, understanding, and outlets in the immediate world around them. This world typically includes family, friends, and social media as main influences that shape your teen and aid in their decision making as they grow toward adulthood.

Teen Cutting: Everything You Should Know as the Parent of a Teenager

Many of the outlets and explorations teens engage in to better understand themselves are perfectly normal and healthy experiences for them. However, there are also many unhealthy patterns and behaviors teens can develop. A disturbing trend of emotional outlet developing among many teenagers is self-injury through cutting.

What is Cutting?

According to Teens Health, cutting is a form of non-suicidal self-injury (NSSI) in which a teen purposely harms themselves by using a sharp object make cuts on the skin of their arms, wrists, legs or stomach. Some teens might also engage in NSSI by burning their skin with a match, lighter or cigarette.

What Parents Should Know About Teen Cutting

As the parent of a teen, you know that teenage emotions and behavior can lean towards the erratic and dramatic. In many instances, occasional dramatic outbursts and emotional struggles are a perfectly normal part of your teen’s growth and development.

However, there are some warning signs you can look for if you notice your teen is consistently struggling emotionally, and suspect they might be dealing with their feelings in a harmful manner.

According to WebMD, David Rosen, who is professor of Pediatrics and director of the Section for Teenage and Young Adult Health at the University of Michigan, says these are common warning signs that teens are cutting:
• Small, linear cuts on the skin
• Unexplained scratches or cuts, which appear on a regular basis
• Drastic changes in mood such as depression, anxiety, performance at school
• Changes in friendships or relationships

As time goes by, teen cutting can escalate and occur more and more often. While it may not be intentional, this escalation can often lead to more serious injuries.

Why do Teens Cut?

Cutting is typically an attempt to control or relieve feelings of anxiety, stress, or sadness. The reasons that a teen cuts can vary based on their personality, emotions, and stressors. However, according to WebMD, some common triggers include uncontrolled feelings of:
• Stress
• Anxiety
• Sadness
• Confusion
• Overwhelm
• Hopelessness

Additionally, a study published in the Journal of Adolescent Health, has identified that cutting may be stemming from a desire to belong or fit in, as it has become a trend and a community on social media. During this study, researchers conducted a search on the hashtag #selfharmmm, and then developed a list of other hashtags used along with it. They found these other hashtags were used as a code to signal posts from people who participate in self-injury:
• #blithe
• #cat
• #selfinjuryy
• #MySecretFamily

What You Should Do if Your Teen is Cutting

In an interview with US News and World Report: Health, Wendy Lader, the president and clinical director of S.A.F.E. (Self-Abuse Finally Ends) Alternatives in St. Louis, Missouri, offers these “do’s and don’ts” for parents who suspect their teen is cutting.

• Only engage in a conversation over cutting with your teen while you are calm, and address the matter from a nonjudgmental, concerned stance.
• Be open to listening and talking to your teen about their feelings.
• Share your own feelings, and let your teen know you struggle as well so you can work through things together.
• Engage or respond in a conversation while you are upset.
• Feel guilty or blame yourself for your teen’s behaviors.
• Ignore the warning signals and avoid bringing up the topic with your teen.
• Focus on the self-injury. Instead focus on the feelings driving their actions.

If your teen has been experiencing extreme emotional struggles, and you have discovered or suspect they are self-injuring through cutting or other means, you may feel overwhelmed yourself. It is a great idea to seek out the help of a professional teen therapist who can help you and your teen identify and manage the feelings, emotions, or issues causing the cutting.

The ABCs of Children’s Mental Health

Mental Health Resources

Here are some great resources to help you understand the ABC’s of mental health (photo credit: BigStockPhoto.com)

May is Children’s Mental Health Month which is a great time to talk about where parents can find more information about the mental health conditions their adolescents may be struggling with. While there is no substitute for the expertise and information provided by a qualified mental health practitioner, this version of the ABCs can help parents learn more about the mental health conditions commonly seen in teenagers so they have the information they need in order to know when it is time to seek help, what questions to ask, and how to ensure their child or teenager gets the mental health support and services they need.


Bipolar Disorder

  • Bipolar Disorder in Children and Teens: A Parent’s Guide from the National Institute of Mental Health
  • Children and Teens with Bipolar Disorder from WebMD.com
  • Bipolar Disorder in Children and Teens from the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychology
  • Children and Adolescents with Bipolar Disorder from the National Alliance on Mental Illness


Cutting and Self Harm

  • Understanding Teen Cutting and Self Injury from Parenting.org
  • Self Injury and Cutting from the Mayo Clinic
  • Self Injury in Adolescents from the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychology
  • A Silent Cry for Help: Understanding Self Harm from Psychology Today


Eating Disorders

Generalized Anxiety Disorder and Panic Disorder

Obsessive Compulsive Disorder

  • Obsessive Compulsive Disorder in Children and Adolescents from the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychology
  • OCD in Children and Teens from the International OCD Foundation
  • Child and Adolescent OCD from the National Alliance on Mental Illness
  • OCD in Teens from Beyond OCD

Post Traumatic Stress Disorder

Suicide Prevention

  • Society for the Prevention of Teen Suicide website
  • Preventing Youth Suicide – Tips for Parents and Educators from the National Association of School Psychologists
  • Teen Suicide is Preventable from the American Psychological Association
  • National Suicide Prevention Lifeline – Available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year at 1-800-273-TALK (8255)
Related Articles:

How to Tell if Your Teenager Needs Therapy

teenage therapy

If you’re wondering whether your teen may need therapy or not, these tips may help. (photo credit: BigStockPhoto.com)

One of the hardest things for any parent to admit is that their child has a problem that they are not equipped to help them solve.  After years of checking for monsters, bandaging boo-boos, and helping with homework, it can be difficult, overwhelming, and even scary to acknowledge that your child has a mental health problem and you don’t know what to do.  But what we, as parents, don’t understand is that there is something we can do; get them the help they need to overcome whatever challenge they are facing.  The key is to understand when it is time to call on the cavalry, to know when our teenagers problems have gone beyond our ability to assist.  Here are some tips for determining when it is time to seek mental health services from a provider.

1.     Red Flags

If there is one thing that every parent should know to watch for it would be these red flags:


2.     Lifestyle Changes

Unfortunately, the need for help is not always as obvious as the red flags listed above.  One of the more subtle changes that can signify a serious mental health issue is significant lifestyle changes.  For example, a previously happy, popular daughter stops spending time with friends or drops out of activities.  A son, who has always been an A student, starts getting D’s and F’s.  Teens that are in trouble may also experience changes in eating habits and sleep patterns.

3.     Acting Out

While it is normal for teenagers to be rebellious and to push limits, teens who are dealing with mental health issues may take these behaviors to an unhealthy and even dangerous level.  Teens who run away, skip school repeatedly, remain away from home for days without permission, act promiscuously, or engage in illegal activities may need more than just a stricter parent or serious consequences to change their behavior.

4.     Extreme Changes in Mood

Several mental health conditions can cause changes in a teenager’s mood.  If teens are showing common signs of depression, rapid mood swings, withdrawal, self-loathing, or rage, they may need the assistance of a mental health practitioner.

5.     Traumatic Event or Loss

Trauma and loss impact all of us, even teenagers and sometimes recovering or dealing with these kinds of issues requires the assistance of a professional.  Any traumatic event can cause immediate and long-term mental health issues which need to be treated as early as possible.  Significant losses like the death of a loved one, the loss of a home, or a divorce can be challenging to deal with and may require professional health to move past.

6.     Your Child’s Request

Sometimes teenagers know they are struggling and reach out for help in healthy ways, like asking to see a therapy or making suggestions related to getting help from someone.  Don’t disregard this kind of request.  Honor your teenagers concerns for their own wellbeing and help them find a mental health practitioner that can address their concerns.

How Can I Help My Self-harming Teenager?

self harm teenager

Do you know the warning signs that your teen is causing harm to themselves? (photo credit: BigStockPhoto.com)

There is no question that parents often struggle to understand their teenagers but when it comes to things like cutting and self-harm, many parents are simply at a loss.  Although teenagers of every generation have struggled to deal with the onslaught of emotional, physical, and mental changes that are a part of the teen years, this way of dealing with that overwhelm is not something most parents today did or heard about when they were teens.  This inability to understand or relate to this type of behavior can make it very difficult for parents to provide the support and assistance their teens need in order to learn healthier ways to cope.  The first step toward helping a teen that is participating in self-harm is to understand what this behavior looks like and why it is happening.

Self-harming behavior is categorized as any behavior that results in deliberately inflicted injury on your body.  This can include things like cutting, scratching, hitting, head banging, skin piercing, biting, and intentional burning.  In most cases, teenagers are participating in self-harm as a way to cope with intense emotional distress that they don’t know how to handle.  Most teens who self-harm participate in more than one type of self-injury and most injuries occur on the arms, legs, and other parts of the front of the body.

Self- harm often offers an outlet for extreme emotions that cannot be expressed in another way.  It can also be a way to impose control on an otherwise out of control world.  It can be a cry for help or a tool for manipulation.  For some teens, self-harm is calming because it allows for the release of tension or pent up emotions.

Unlike some other mental health conditions, self-harm has no real cause although it can co-exist with other mental health problems like depression and eating disorders.  Although most people who engage in this type of activity are teenagers, people of all ages can use self-injury as a coping strategy for handling intense emotions.  Although there is no specific cause, there are some risk factors that can increase the likelihood that someone will use self-harm as a coping strategy.  Those factors include age as most people who self-harm are teenagers, mental health, and life experiences.  Teens who have been abused or neglected during their childhood or who have experienced a significant loss, like the death of a parent, are more likely than their peers to participate in self-harm.

If you suspect that a teenager in your life is participating in self-harming behavior, don’t wait to get them help.  Start by contacting their medical doctor or a mental health provider to discuss your concerns.  Ask that your teen be evaluated for self-harm and other potential mental health conditions.  Listen to your provider’s advice about next steps for diagnosis, treatment options, and other things you need to do to get your teen the help and support they need.

When it Comes to Information, More is Not Always Better – Part 2

Teen Tech Week Quiz

When it comes to information, more isn’t always better, especially when it comes to our teens. (Photo credit: Anoka County Library)

In part 2 of this series, information on additional mental health conditions is covered.  Read Part 1 of the series here.

Bipolar Disorder

  • Bipolar Disorder in Children and Teens: A Parent’s Guide from the National Institute of Mental Health – Provides a great overview specific geared towards parents
  • Children and Teens with Bipolar Disorder from WebMD.com – Great section on what parents can do to help and support their bipolar teens
  • Bipolar Disorder in Children and Teens from the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychology – Gives a general overview with links to other resources
  • Children and Adolescents with Bipolar Disorder from the National Alliance on Mental Illness – Helpful overview of symptoms, treatments, side effects, and other information about this disorder

Cutting and Self Harm

  • Understanding Teen Cutting and Self Injury from Parenting.org – General information about self injury including signs, risk factors, and how to get help.
  • Self Injury and Cutting from the Mayo Clinic – Offers a definition, causes, symptoms, and information on getting help
  • Self Injury in Adolescents from the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychology – Covers the different types of behavior classified as self injury and offers information on why teens use this as a coping strategy
  • A Silent Cry for Help: Understanding Self Harm from Psychology Today – A look at self harm including symptoms, causes, and what parents can do to help if they suspect their child is cutting.


  • StopBullying.gov from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services – Great resource for parents that provides information on how to combat the negative effects of bullying.
  • Bully-Proofing Your Kids from CNN – In-depth article examining what parents can do to help their children avoid and overcome bullying
  • How Parents, Teachers, and Kids Can Take Action to Prevent Bullying from the American Psychological Association – Provides a report with targeted sections for each group outlining what to look for and how to help prevent bullying behavior
  • Bullying: What Parents Can Do from the National Crime Prevention Council – Offers parents strategies on what to do if their child is being bullied or if their child is the bully

Obsessive Compulsive Disorder

  • Obsessive Compulsive Disorder in Children and Adolescents from  the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychology – Provides a good overview of OCD in adolescents and provides links to other resources
  • OCD in Children and Teens from the International OCD Foundation – Offers parents insight in what it is like to live with OCD, an overview of treatment options, and a resource for finding help locally.
  • Child and Adolescent OCD from the National Alliance on Mental Illness – Gives parents a good overview of the most common obsessions and compulsions experienced by children and teens and discusses the effect OCD can have on the overall family
  • OCD in Teens from Beyond OCD – Offers a section of information ”Just for Teens” about this disorder that includes an overview of the disorder, a list of symptoms, information on why therapy works, and links to other resources

Post Traumatic Stress Disorder

  • PTSD in Children and Teens from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs – Gives parents a comprehensive overview of what causes PTSD in children, what PTSD looks like in children, and the long term effects of trauma on children
  • PTSD isn’t Just a War Wound, Teens Suffer Too from National Public Radio – Offers anecdotal information about PTSD in teens and includes links to other resources including a recording of the story on “All Things Considered
  • Post Traumatic Stress Disorder from the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychology – Provides an overview of the disorder
  • Post Traumatic Stress Disorder in Teens from the U.S. Library of Medicine, National Institute of Health as published in the journal World Psychiatry – Article offering an in-depth and clinically detailed description of PTSD in teens including risk factors, how it is diagnosed, and different forms of treatment

Generalized Anxiety Disorder and Panic Disorder

  • What is Generalized Anxiety Disorder from the National Institute of Mental Health – Offers an overview of the disorder, the symptoms, causes, and treatment option
  • Generalized Anxiety Disorder from Teen Mental Health – Provides information on symptoms, diagnosis, treatment, risk factors, and how to help support loved ones with the disorder
  • Panic Disorder in Children and Adolescents from the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychology
  • Panic Disorder from Teen Mental Health – Provides information on symptoms, diagnosis, treatment, risk factors, and how to help support loved ones with the disorder

How is DBT Different and How Does it Help?

DBT stands for Dialectical Behavior Therapy and it is a therapeutic approach for treating certain conditions that commonly impact teenagers.  Although it was originally created as a way to help those diagnosed with borderline personality disorder, it is also proving effective at helping teens who are participating in self-harming activities and those who have acknowledged having suicidal thoughts.  It is an approach to treatment that combines several different kinds of therapy and mental health coping mechanisms into a single overarching program.

One of the most important aspects of a DBT program is the type of relationship that the provider strives to achieve with the client.  In some programs and even during individual therapy practices, the practitioner operates in an adversarial capacity, especially in working with teenagers.  However, in DBT programs, the provider’s goal is to build a different kind of relationship, one where the teen feels supported and the provider is their ally rather than another enemy.

The program also pulls from a variety of therapeutic approaches and techniques aimed at treating the whole person as well as the whole problem.  DBT generally include individual cognitive behavioral therapy, group therapy sessions, mindfulness training and activities, reality testing, distress tolerance, and some assertiveness training.  Let’s look at each of these individually.

  • Individual Cognitive Behavioral Therapy Sessions –This type of therapy helps clients address issues with emotional dysfunction and behavior modification.
  • Group Therapy Sessions – This type of therapy works on building the client’s skills in regulating their own emotions, modifying their behaviors, and tolerating stressors in a more productive way.
  • Mindfulness Training – This practice can help with stress reduction, present awareness, relief of anxiety and depression symptoms, and overall wellness.  This is a core part of DBT as it provides the foundation for accepting, enduring, and overcoming the powerful feelings that clients may be using unhealthy behaviors to manage.
  • Reality Testing – This helps clients understand and differentiate between what is happening in their mind and what is happening in the outside world.
  • Distress Tolerance – This approach helps clients learn to tolerate pain and distress in a non-judgmental way so that they can make decisions and react without becoming besieged by the torrent of negative emotions and self-destructive behaviors they have been using to cope.
  • Assertiveness Training – This part of the program helps clients learn to create healthy boundaries, say no, and handle conflict with other people.

The combination of all this components is what makes DBT such an effective form of treatment for teens.  By learning mindfulness techniques, teens can learn to pause before reacting to negative events.  The distress tolerance and reality testing elements build from there, providing teens with new skills to cope with painful circumstances and past stressors while also being able to separate what is happening from their perception of what is happening.  In their individual sessions, they gain a better understanding of themselves and their emotions and learn new skills for challenging and changing their behavior.  Group sessions provide an opportunity to practice the skills they have learned with their peers and improve their interpersonal skills.  Lastly, the assertiveness training gives them a framework for using the things they have learned out in the world.   When you combine all the skills, strategies, techniques, and tools together, clients get the attention they need to work through complex emotional issues while also building a solid skill set that will enable them to self-manage.  This comprehensive approach is what makes DBT so successful at treating maladaptive behaviors like cutting, self-harm, and suicidal tendencies.

DBT helps because it enables teens to develop a more balanced approach to their lives.  For teens that feel overwhelmed or out of control emotionally, this type of program can provide a sense of regaining some control.   By enabling teens to replace unhealthy behaviors with higher distress tolerance and more appropriate coping mechanisms, it enables them to become better self managers now and as they move into the future.  It is most effective at treating teens with the following problems:

If you have a teenager who is experiencing any of these problems, participation in a DBT program may offer real and lasting benefits by providing your teenager with a safe space to work through their emotions and a new set of skills.

What is DBT and How Can it Help My Teenager?

As parents, there is nothing more frightening than watching our children suffer and struggle, and feeling powerless to help them.   When teens are injuring themselves and struggling with suicidal thoughts and tendencies, that powerlessness can feel overwhelming.  Too often, parents disregard the signs and ignore what is right in front of them because they don’t know how to help.  This “ignore the problem in the hope that it will go away” approach can have serious consequences for their teenager.  Other parents see what is going on but don’t know what to do or how to help.  The first step in getting your teenager help is to acknowledge that there is a problem.  The second step is to find a professional mental health practitioner that can help.

When most people think of getting mental health, they likely envision traditional talk therapy or individual cognitive behavioral therapy, both of which are standard therapeutic approaches used to treat teenagers who are participating in self injuring activities and those who have expressed suicidal thoughts.  Both of these approaches can be very effective in dealing with these issues and any underlying issues like depression and anxiety.  There is also an emerging approach called Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) that has is also proving to be very effective at helping teenagers overcome these challenges.

DBT was originally developed as a way to treat women with borderline personality disorder (BPD).  It combines individual cognitive behavioral therapy techniques, mindfulness, reality testing, distress tolerance, and the concepts used in assertiveness training.   One of the hallmarks of DBT is that the mental health practitioner strives to create a relationship with the teenager that is allied rather than adversarial.  In effect, the therapist or counselor acts as an ally, validating feelings and offering acceptance while helping redirect feelings and behaviors that are destructive or harmful.

DBT also uses a combined approach which incorporates both individual therapy sessions and group sessions.  The group sessions focus on building a skill set that helps teens in four key areas, regulating emotions, practicing mindfulness, increasing effectiveness, and tolerating distress.   One of the reasons DBT can be so effective in helping teens is this two-pronged approach.   While the group sessions give teens the skills they need to overcome these challenges and the opportunity to practice utilizing these skills with other teens, the individual sessions ensure emotional issues and suicidal thoughts and tendencies get the attention they need while the teenager is building the skills they need to self-manage.

DBT can help teenagers who are already engaging in self-harm and may also be helpful in preventing self-harm behavior from occurring.  By giving teenagers the skills they need to regulate their own emotions, become more resilient in dealing with distressing situations, and embrace a mindfulness approach to their lives, DBT can help troubled teens before they seek relief from maladaptive behaviors.   DBT can be effective method for helping those who are already cutting and struggling with suicidal tendencies overcome those challenges as well as a way to prevent these problems before they start.

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Self Harm, No Longer Just a Teenage Problem


Self-harm (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

For most parents, the thought of their teenager intentionally harming themselves can seem inconceivable.   We work hard every day to protect them from the worst of the world and often only see the dangers that are hiding “out there.”  Unfortunately, these two things together can make it very hard to see that one of the dangers might not be out there, but hiding inside our child.


Self-harm amongst teens has been on the rise for years due in part to increased awareness and more frequent discussion of self-harm amongst adolescents.  Experts believe that bringing it out into the open may actually have encouraged more teens to try it resulting in more widespread adoption.  Until recently, however, this practice was relegated to the tween and teen years, with most self harm incidents beginning around age 14.  New research published in the journal Pediatrics indicates that children are turning to self-harm as a coping strategy at younger and younger ages.


The study used information garnered from interviewing 665 kids in three different grades, third, sixth and ninth.  The participants were from two different parts of the country and the objective of the study was to assess the prevalence of self-harm amongst adolescents.    Interviews were conducted in a laboratory setting and participants were asked to respond based on their entire life experience, not just their recent experiences.


One of the most important findings was also one of the most shocking.  Cutting and self-harm, previously thought to occur primarily in the early teen years, is actually starting in elementary school.  The research team found that children as young as 7 may be using self-inflicted injury as a way to manage psychological stress.   Amongst the third grade participants, 8% have injured themselves and more than 60% of those that have caused themselves injury admit to doing it more than once.


The study did find that the rate of self-harm is lower in 6th graders with only 4% reporting its use as a self management strategy but any perceived improvement disappears with the results of the 9th grade interviews where 13% admit to engaging in self harm.


This means that parents need to know the signs of self harm and start looking for them earlier.  Here are some things parents need to know in order to recognize self-harm when it is happening, prevent additional harm, and help their children when it is needed.


1.     Self-harm isn’t just cutting.


While cutting may get most of the press, adolescents who engage in self-harm to alleviate frustration, stress, depression, and anxiety may also hit themselves, burn themselves, or do other things that cause injury.


2.     Girls do it more, but boys do it too.


Although more girls engage in self-harm as a coping strategy, they are not the only ones.  Girls are more likely to cut or carve their skin while boys are more likely to hit themselves or use blunt trauma to cause injury.


3.     Self-harm can be used like a drug.


For those who can’t quite grasp the concept of using self-harm as a way to cope with emotional stress, it may be helpful to understand why adolescents and some adults engage in it.  Physical pain causes a release of endorphins, which are feel good chemicals in the brain.  This effect blunts all pain, including the emotional distress the person is feeling.  In some ways, it can be compared to using drugs like cocaine, which create the same type of escape.


If you are concerned that your child is intentionally injuring themselves, seek professional help.  While these activities are not indicators of suicidal thoughts or precursors to suicidal tendencies, they may point to significant underlying issues that must also be addressed to safeguard the health and wellbeing of your child.