It’s believed that around 13% of teenagers between the ages of 11 and 16 may self-harm at some point, but this figure could be much higher due to the secretive nature of the behaviour.
According to Selfharm UK, self-harming can be a way of dealing with distress, fear, worry, depression or low self-esteem, or it may be a form of self-punishment.
The reasons why a person may begin to self-harm are unique and complex, making it difficult for some parents to understand.
But to help, adults who used to self-harm as teenagers have been sharing the one piece of advice they wish all parents knew.
Don’t Add To The Pressure They’re Already Feeling
“Don’t put too much pressure on small things, especially stuff your kid is already worrying about. Like if your kid failed a test and is already beating themselves up over it, don’t bang on and on about the test. Only bother them with important stuff, because if they’re to the point where they’re cutting themselves, they’ve probably already got enough on their plate.”
Let Your Child Find Their Own Path
“Listen with an open mind. I had good, loving parents but they never just listened. They thought if they took away my metal CDs and crappy poetry it would go away, all it did was make me feel more alone.”
Avoid Alienating Phrases
“Never tell them about ‘how other people have it worse’, that’s a great way to alienate your kid and make them not want to talk to you about it.”
Try To Remove Judgement
“Not judging is one of the most important things. I had tried talking to my parents at one point and was interrupted and yelled at because I shouldn’t be having thoughts like that. Luckily I had some awesome friends that helped me out.”
Respect Your Child’s Privacy
“Allow someone’s room to be private - don’t just open the door without knocking, or go around snooping in a kid’s room while they’re away. I took to literally locking my door at all times when I got into my later teens because my mum would not treat my room as actually being my personal space. There’s not many feelings like going into your room (or house if you want a larger scale comparison) and seeing that someone has been messing with and looking through all your stuff.”
Seek Professional Support
“Refer them to a professional listener (therapist). It’s important to be supportive of what your child is comfortable sharing with you, but depending on the severity of their issues (and they are severe if they’re serious about harming others/themselves), they will be much better off talking to a professional.”
Don’t Make It About Your Parenting
“Sure way to fuck a kid up is to make them feel guilty for how they are expressing their emotions. Frame the conversation like ‘I want to get you help so that you can experience life with[out] this much pain. I care about you.’ Not: ‘How did I fuck up? I’m a terrible parent. Why are you doing this to me? It’s so embarrassing.’”
Useful websites and helplines:
Mind, open Monday to Friday, 9am-6pm on 0300 123 3393 Samaritans offers a listening service which is open 24 hours a day, on 116 123 (UK and ROI - this number is FREE to call and will not appear on your phone bill.) Get Connected is a free advice service for people under 25. Call 0808 808 4994 or email: firstname.lastname@example.org