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11 Ways to Help Teens Who Self-Harm

  • Home Educating Family Association Contributor
  • Published Jul 23, 2014
11 Ways to Help Teens Who Self-Harm

My blade was crafted from a box cutter, easily disguised in my bag of school tools. I took the blade and carved another gash deep across my wrist. I battled the urge to cut along the path of my veins. I knew if I did, that would be my final act. I had learned from a friend that cutting along the width of my wrist would only create a scar, a reminder of my pain, but that a slice up my arm would likely end my life. And I wasn't there. Yet. I knew I didn't want to live in pain anymore, but I also knew that I didn't want to burden my parents with my pain. And frankly, I didn't know if they would understand. More importantly, I didn't want the judgment, the questions, and the fake sympathy that would likely follow the conversation. In my teenaged mind, the only thing that made sense was to suffer through the agonizing days, weeks, months, and years of constant memories or to find a way to anesthetize those repeated, horrific moments over and over, hoping they would fade into oblivion.

My friend was a great help. She didn't run with my normal group of friends. She was my secret friend. From her, I learned about dark music, Goth, and Wicca. My normal group of friends didn't know about her, nor did my parents. Her music had a beat that droned on and on, making me feel like I was in a trance. It made me feel good. It made me forget. And now, I was in deep. A secret world that I could turn to and escape my troubles. I never embraced Wicca, but the darkness was still within view and it matched my feelings.

My music and that beat were the only things that understood what I was going through. A lot had happened to lead up to those moments when I hid out in the trees at my school, while carving initials in my hand and ankles. Thick scars, still visible after twenty-five years line my wrists.

And my parents never knew. I had learned to hide my pain and desire to simply leave it all behind by wearing long-sleeved shirts. My reminders were still there, just a thin layer of fabric above my flesh. And when cutting no longer provided that escape, I flirted with pills. Anything available in the cabinet, I tried. Dark days were both behind and in front of me.

I had been raped at the age of fourteen by a neighbor. No one knew. So no one cared. This single event sent me into a spiral of bad choices. I questioned everything I formerly believed.

I no longer trusted family, friends, or authorities. I ached for someone to comfort me and make things better. However, without anyone knowing, I would never get out of this dark place. It is only by the grace of a loving God that I am still here to share my story. He graciously carried me through an additional seven years to the date of my salvation that would change everything.

As I look back over the last twenty-five years, I know that I have learned a lot. As a parent now, I would like to share eleven observations and thoughts that may help you if you have a child who is suffering with a pain so deep that they feel a need to cut, medicate, or even desire to commit suicide.

1. Avoid liberalism AND legalism in your family. Your child will see both as a need to rebel, sensing no grace and opportunity to talk and share his fears and concerns.

2. Create an environment that is welcoming, not judging when a child comes with a secret or a heartfelt need. Again, the child needs to feel that the safest place to talk is at home.

3. Tell the child that if they are ever too uncomfortable to talk to you that they should talk to an adult friend who can relay the information to you. Often, the child is afraid of hurting the parent's feelings and will choose to spare the parent over revealing their own pain. Children have a natural desire to protect their parents.

4. Keep an eye out for the telltale signs of teenage depression, including the following:

  • feeling persistently sad or blue
  • talking about suicide or being better off dead
  • becoming suddenly much more irritable
  • having a marked deterioration in school or home functioning
  • reporting persistent physical complaints and/or making many visits to school nurses
  • failing to engage in previously pleasurable activities or interactions with friends
  • abusing substances

5. Avoid offering too many solutions to their problems. Teens simply desire to be heard. Make sure your teen knows that you will offer biblical wisdom when they ask.

6. Listen to the music that your teen listens to. You can often determine their mood or mindset through the words and sounds of their playlist.

7. Provide time to get away with your teen in a fun environment. Create memories that are enjoyable. In a moment of pleasure, a teen may feel the freedom to open up.

8. Be willing to talk at all hours of the night. Due to the physical changes, melatonin is released roughly two hours later for teens. Their heart windows are often more open between 10 p.m. and 1 a.m.

9. Share your own past hurts and struggles with your teens. You have a story, and they need to know that. We often hide our pasts from our children to protect them or so they don't think badly of us.

10. Do not be afraid to seek counseling if the depression continues. Nouthetic counseling addresses the struggles from a biblical perspective. There are also other great options that can be offered through your church. Never be afraid to seek help. It does not mean that you are a failure as a parent. In fact, it means that you love your child and desire the best for them.

11. Pray. Don't underestimate the power of prayer. Pray with and for your teen. Let them hear your heart cry with them. And pray some more.

"Behold, God is my salvation; I will trust, and will not be afraid; for the LORD GOD is my strength and my song, and he has become my salvation" (Isaiah 12:2).

© 2013 by Home Educating Family Association. All rights reserved. Used with permission. Originally published in 2013 Issue 1 of Home Educating Family Magazine, the publication with the most meaningful discussions taking place in the homeschooling community today. Visit hedua.com to read back issues and for more articles, product reviews, and media.

Publication date: July 23, 2014