Many parents are currently navigating the twilight zone of parenting that makes colicky, sleepless nights with a newborn and potty-training nightmares seem like child’s play.
It is called parenting an adolescent child.
Almost overnight, my spirited, confident child who gave no heed to social circles and popularity did a complete about-face…and every area of her life was impacted when she entered junior high. She abandoned her whimsical world of the arts and imagination that brought her such joy and she become hyper-obsessed with boys, make-up, her friends and popularity. Though I recognized many of these things are normal teen development, they were some potential behaviors that were worrisome and for the first time as a parent, I felt like I had lost control and couldn’t make her life better as she struggled.
Self-harm ran rampant in her middle school circles. The athletes. The artists. The kids who struggle to fit in. The perfectionist, overachieving kids (SO SO MANY). Every time I’d hear about someone new who was struggling, it opened my eyes to just how pervasive it was.
I expressed some of my fears and frustrations with my good friend and mother of six who recommended the book, “Reviving Ophelia 25th Anniversary Edition: Saving the Selves of Adolescent Girls.” Written by Mary Pipher, Ph.D., the Los Angeles Times called it “An eye-opening look at the everyday dangers of being young and female, and how adults can help. An important book…Pipher shines high-beam headlights on the world of teenage girls.” Though written 20+ years ago, this book resonated with me on such a deep level.
I have learned so much since that time by educating myself about mental health, what is normal teen behavior, what is worrisome, and what needs therapy/medication. One thing I did right: I intervened EARLY and got my daughter the help she needed and several years later, she is on a healthy, happy path because she was given the tools early in her life to navigate her mental health.
Self-harm and the Power of “I Care”
A few years ago, I stumbled upon an online article where the author confessed to having a secret. I usually avoid click-bait like that but felt compelled to click through and I’m so glad I did. It was a woman’s incredibly raw narrative of her years-long struggle with self-harming. I noticed there were so many comments attached to the article and, though I usually avoid them at all costs, I couldn’t bear the thought that perhaps some of the people were shaming her…and I wanted to share my support and love with her.
But what unfolded in that comment section is something I have never seen before. Support. Love. Safety.
“The physical pain magically took me away from any emotional pain that I was feeling for a brief time.” -Kari
“I did it for years. Then I got caught. That led to the help I desperately needed. Cutting is rarely for attention. It’s very hidden. It became almost addicting to me and it was a release from my emotional pain. My brain still thinks of it when I’m highly stressed or depressed but thankfully because of the help I received 20yrs ago, I’ve never done it again.”-Mandy
“For those who self-harm or feel like nobody cares please go attend some counseling. There is nothing wrong with seeking help, and nothing wrong with anyone who seeks help. Everyone needs a little help sometimes and it makes you strong for seeking help.”-Rhonda
“This hit me really hard. I cut when I was a teen and occasionally if I’m so stressed or depressed these days I’ll do it. But it’s so correct about nobody taking notice.” -Sandra
And then suddenly, people started to notice it was OK to share.
“I am in my early 20s and still cut and no one cares or notices.” -Maive
I responded: I care. Please know that you are loved. If you have no one to talk to, please reach out to me.
“I do it in my forties, and no one cares.” -Alex
A chorus of replies. Of the same reply: “I care.”
And so it continued.
No longer were women confessing their former struggles but they were sharing the demons they are still battling. And with each confession, “I care,” was always, ALWAYS the response.
No matter our background, we all carry some level of pain. How different would this world be if we could all do better in creating safe places for ourselves and our kids?
Warning signs for non-suicidal teen self-injury
Parents and pediatricians alike should look for warning signs of self-injurious behavior. Children’s Hospital Colorado shares these warning signs:
- Visible marks such as scratches, cuts or burns that are not clearly explained by typical activities
- Covering up with weather-inappropriate clothing such as long sleeves in the summer or refusing to participate in activities that involve fewer clothes, such as swimming
- Sharp objects found in a child’s room
- Worsening symptoms of depression or anxiety
- Knowledge of a friend who is self-harming
Resources for self-injury
Pediatric Mental Health Institute at Children’s Hospital Colorado.
The Mindfulness Workbook for Teen Self-harm: Skills to Help You Overcome Cutting and Self-harming Behaviors, Thoughts and Feelings.
Self-Injury: Why Teens Do It, How to Help: An in-depth article from Contemporary Pediatrics with clinical scenarios, assessment charts and more
Cornell University College of Human Ecology: Self-Injury & Recovery Resources: A comprehensive resource for clinicians dealing with self-harm, including information briefs on dozens of self-harm-related topics
S.A.F.E. Alternatives: A leading outpatient facility for teens and adults who self-harm with tons of info on self-harm treatment and interventions
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