Cutting in Adolescence: What You Should Know

Cutting in adolescence is a very widespread practice and constitutes a call for help. Find out what it is and how to act.
Cutting in Adolescence: What You Should Know

Last update: 28 December, 2021

Chances are, at some point in your life, you’ve seen a teenager self-harm, even if it was in a movie. For those who haven’t suffered it themselves or who aren’t experts in the field, this type of behavior can be taken as a simple and childish call for attention. However, cutting in adolescence hides a deep undertone and requires serious intervention from adults.

Although it’s not a new phenomenon, cutting among adolescents has been on the rise in recent times. For this reason, it’s important that, as parents, we’re alert to the appearance of certain signs related to this behavior. And above all, that we know how to react appropriately to this situation.

If you want to know more about it, keep reading everything we have to tell you in this article.

What is cutting in adolescence?

Cutting is the term used to refer to the self-harm that adolescents generally practice on themselves.

The most frequent type of aggression is a superficial cut with the blade of a knife or any sharp element. However, this act can be done in other ways, such as burning or scratching yourself.

These wounds are usually inflicted on the skin of the arm, forearm, thigh, or abdomen. These teens are looking for areas of the body that they can cover or that are easy to hide. The truth is, these minors aren’t trying to attract the attention of others, and on the contrary, they try to avoid the repercussions and consequences of the environment.

A woman with bandages on her arms holding her head.

Why does self-harm occur?

It’s important to emphasize that cutting isn’t a suicide attempt, as young people who harm themselves don’t seek to end their life. In reality, they turn to this practice to deal with excruciating and unmanageable emotional pain.

We must bear in mind that when wounds are caused, endorphins are released, which are hormones that provide relaxation and restore calm.

Thus, psychological discomfort is reduced and replaced by physical discomfort, which is much easier to deal with.

At the same time, for many adolescents, cutting is a means of feeling that they have control over some aspect of their lives. It usually appears in response to emotions of frustration, helplessness, anger, sadness, or anguish. And because they don’t believe they’re capable of changing their situation, they choose to take control of their emotions in this way, at least momentarily.

One of the biggest problems with cutting is that it tends to become recurrent, just like addictions. The adolescent can become dependent on this temporary relief from self-harm and resort to it in each new challenging situation.

How to identify cutting in adolescence and provide help

As we’ve mentioned, the most usual thing is that the wounds caused by cutting tend to be hidden. For this reason, you need to pay attention to certain warning signs. For example, a resounding change in the way they dress with preferences for long clothes (even on hot days) or bracelets to cover the wrists.

Another red flag is conduct. For example, when your child has very intense emotional reactions and has difficulty managing them or when they’re going through a period of special difficulty and don’t seek or find support in their environment.

On the other hand, if you’ve discovered that your child is self-harming, it’s essential that you be empathetic and compassionate. Keep in mind that their emotional pain is probably intense, so your reproaches, judgments, and criticism will only aggravate their discomfort.

Try to show yourself willing to listen to them, understand them, and offer them the help they need. Worry about how they feel, what led them to this situation, and why they continue this behavior. This conversation will be enlightening and somewhat reassuring for both of you.

A person holding another person's hands in theirs.

Seek professional help!

Don’t hesitate to seek professional advice. Minors who practice cutting have serious emotional management difficulties and probably suffer from anxiety, depression, and other important conditions. Therefore, having an expert who gives them tools to develop coping skills will make a world of difference.

When your child learns to deal with the world, they’ll no longer need to resort to self-harm. In any case, don’t downplay the situation or ignore it: It’s a call for help.

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The contents of You Are Mom is for educational and informational purposes only. At no time do they replace the diagnosis, advice, or treatment from a professional. If in doubt, it's best to consult a trusted specialist.