Disturbing behavior of ‘self-cutting’ on the rise among teens

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DENVER — Self-cutting, a teen and preteen trend, is alarming and heartbreaking for parents.

Family therapists said over the past 10 years, they have seen a dramatic increase in the number of kids deliberately cutting themselves to relieve stress or emotional pain.

Some studies indicate as many as 1 in 5 kids tried it. Dr. Sheryl Gonzalez Ziegler, a family therapist, said there are strong statistics that indicate it can start in middle school-aged kids.

She said it is not a suicide attempt and is usually not described as being painful. Ziegler said kids mostly use razors, but it can be any sharp object.

“Usually just a straight across pattern. It will start on the arms and then go to the inner thigh and stomach. It’s very striking when you see a kid’s arm or leg that’s been cutting. It’s usually 10 or 15 or 20 cuts at a time,” she said.

Ziegler said she sees children who self-cut from all socio-economic backgrounds. Some have obvious emotional issues, but others appear outwardly happy.

One couple, “John” and “Ann,” said that is the case with their daughter. They said she started cutting herself when she was 12 and they had no idea until they got a call from a neighbor.

“She said, ‘Have you seen your daughter’s Instagram account?’ And I said, ‘An Instagram account for a 12-year-old?’” Ann said after discovering their daughter had numerous Instagram, Facebook and email accounts, and was posting pictures of razor cuts she made on her arms.

Roller coaster of emotions

They describe a roller coaster of emotions. They said it was scary and frustrating, and they felt like “idiot parents” for not knowing.

They believe their daughter, like many kids, starting self-cutting for attention. But it quickly evolved into something else.

Ziegler said kids describe it as addictive. Psychiatrists say self-cutting has become an adolescent coping strategy.

Ann and John said their family learned to take safety precautions. They check their daughter’s room all the time, they have a “razor count,” and they limit and closely monitor her social media activity.

Social media monitoring

Social media sites contain thousands of pictures, posts and videos of self-cutting that make it seem like it’s OK. Ziegler cautions parents to keep an eye on what kids are posting.

“Somebody will text a friend and say ‘I just cut tonight’ or ‘The cut felt so good.’ If you see that on your kid’s texting string, then you want to ask them about it,” she said.

Ziegler emphasized parents should approach it in a calm way, for instance asking, “Have you ever thought about cutting? I know some kids in your school probably do.”

Ziegler also said it’s best to seek help with a professional therapist.

Ann and John said their daughter is doing better with therapy, and is more apt now to talk things through instead of thinking self-cutting is her only option to find relief.

Psychiatrists said most kids grow out of the behavior as they learn healthier ways to deal with life.

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