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What Parents Need to Know About Cutting

Updated on October 28, 2008

Great Read for Parents and Kids

This is a great read that describes cutting in the context of a teenager's life, but it's not only a teen or YA book. There are adult themes and characters as well as adolescents. It's a good adult read on it's own regardless of the education on cutting. I would also share with an older child, with discretion.

Self-Injury Basics

Cutting, also known as self-injury or self-mutilation is the practice of manipulating a mood or emotional state by inflicting physical harm on a person's own body. Many people who do this will cut themselves, but they may also burn, scratch, bite, or hit themselves - particularly banging the head. It's a form of communicating feelings the person cannot express and it is distinctly different from self inflicted pain derived from sexual acts or spiritual ritual. It is not associated with body piercing or tattooing.

It's important to note that self-injury is rarely life threatening. However, because of the revulsion many people feel about it, some health care providers have an appropriate response. That said, it doesn't matter how severe or minor the physical injuries are. It's what's going on inside that matters.

What is the Payoff of Cutting?

Self-injury releases tension - both physiological and psychological - very quickly. A person who cuts can turn a state of overwhelm into a state of relative calm almost immediately. Cutting reduces panic to simply feeling bad.

It is a destructive coping skill like many others in our society - drinking, anorexia, or working too much. It does not mean the person is crazy, or that they are attempting suicide. In fact, the self-injury may relieve tension to the point that the person no longer considers suicide.

Why Do Kids Cut Themselves?

One common denominator in kids who cut themselves is an inability to express their feelings. They either never learned how to do it or were invalidated when they tried. They have gotten the idea, possibly from an abusive home life though not always, that certain feelings are wrong and not to be articulated. They may have not had a role model for coping with troubling situations in a healthy way.

Cutting also gives the child a great sense of control. Some kids do it as a form of self-punishment, but this isn't always the case. Many cutters use it to express feelings that there are no words for.

Some kids are predisposed toward this kind of behavior and it may take very little to set it off. Serotonin may be involved in making some kids more aggressive and impulsive than others, therefore more likely to self-mutilate. Once a kid tries the behavior and realizes the immense stress relief it provides, it may seem like a good idea for the next time the child is under stress.

Cutting is not done, as frequently believed, to "fit in" or to garner attention. Many teens will go to great lengths to hide the effects of the behavior in an attempt to avoid adding shame to their already fragile mental state.

Help For Kids Who Cut

Although parents may not be able to prevent cutting, maintaining open communication should always be a goal. Parents should make sure they're not the ones doing all the talking and be careful not to try to solve all the child's problems. Sometimes parents just need to listen so that children know it's okay to speak the things that weigh on their hearts.

Like with other addictions, a kid cannot be forced not to cut himself. He needs to be ready to accept help and do the work it takes to change the behavior. Do not issue ultimatums or punish the self-destructive behavior. Threatening to hospitalize or institutionalize a self-injurer can make feelings of lack of control and overwhelm even worse.

Once the child is ready to stop, there are many therapeutic techniques employed by mental health professionals to help him. It's best to consult a professional with specific experience working with kids who self-mutilate. There may be underlying serious mental conditions that need to be diagnosed.

This is a serious matter and not just a fad. If you suspect your child is cutting, seek help right away. And as with all things teenager - keep up the conversation as much as you can to try and prevent this tragic behavior.

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  • profile image

    scrambler4201 4 years ago

    I am a mom that needs to talk with her daughter about cutting tonight and don't know what to say. I don't want to make it worse for her and it breaks my heart to think of the pain she and the others on this site are going through. Being there, how would you have wanted your parents to help you deal with this? What can I do to best help her through this? Should I be strict and check her daily or let her work this out and just let her know I am here?

  • profile image

    mskailuakona 6 years ago

    Thanks to all the viewers it helped to know I'm not alone.

    That said I just returned from the ER after my 15 year old daughter took an overdose of my xanax. When the nurse asked her if she cut herself I was startled to see her reply yes as she pulled up the sleeves of the jacket she was wearing to show the cuts. Living in Hawaii for almost two years we live at 1500 in elevation so the temperature is quite cold so I didn't expect to hear this. Reading all of your stories & comments is healing. I will be seeking a therapist to sort out her feelings.

    I plan to listen to her more. I feel so badly. I don't know if it's because her friend's sister also cuts so maybe she's a copycat. Moving 4,500 miles away from the mainland (Florida) I knew would be hard for her yet she made tons of friends so I thought she's adjusted. Moving to Hawaii there's more drugs than on the mainland so the temptation is even greater.

    I don't understand this cutting thing so I appreciate any words of wisdom from viewers who have the unfortunate experience of having a teenager that cuts themselves.

  • profile image

    beautiful999 6 years ago

    One more thing to the kid who was cutting and then ended up with an eating disorder. You are textbook, it is more than obvious that your issue is with control. You need to control something. Your parents must be extremely controlling. I wonder if you caused them to not trust your choices or if there choices as a teenager has predetermined that yours will be as bad. You and your parents do need to see some sort of mediator for help with building trust. But just know what you're doing is a catch 22, how could they trust you if this is how you handle yourself when you have a problem?

  • profile image

    beautiful999 6 years ago

    Parents, Just to let you know all the kids who do this tell you not to get angry with your children, funny! Seriously my daughter started this ridiculous act of stupidity. I had my husband hold her down so that I could spank her little but. Then, when that didn't work we took her to the mental hospital and left her there for 24hrs. She at that time found out we had the power to leave her there or take her home. We of course took her home but let her know that she would half to be checked everyday until trust could be rebuilt and if this behavior ever happened again next time she would not be returning home. I have other children who deserve to live in a functional home. She hasn't done this since and it has been almost a year. We also began home schooling her so that we could watch over her better. Seriously I can't stress this enough. If your children are doing this it is your fault. maybe your not doing anything wrong right now but somewhere along the way your child lost trust in you. Talk to your child work on rebuilding the trust. Don't focus on the behavior, but on the reason for the behavior. If your child is trying to release pain but causing pain they are confused and probably alone. Talk to them let them vent on you. How could they do that if there are things they are forbidded to tell you.TRUST!

  • profile image

    beautiful999 6 years ago

    Also, I would like to say that this behavior is to be treated with shame. Kids/ Especially teenagers who do this are trying to manipulate. whether it is you or themselves into believing physical pain can relieve emotional pain. Most people who do this have borderline personality disorder and if you look that up you'll find these people are big time manipulators. Seriously, counceling is a waste of money, you'll find that it will get worse because this behavior has now led to your child getting the attention/conversation they have been seeking. Just pay attention to them, teenagers are tough and they need as much attention and praise as a two year old would.

  • profile image

    beautiful999 6 years ago

    This whole thing is absolutely ridiculous, most cutters do it for attention. whether that attention is from the opposite sex or parents. whatever the case it shouldn't be treated like an illness. the inability to get positive attention has forced these cutters to seek any attention they can. if your child is doing this ignore the behavior completely and start paying attention to the positive things your child is doing. self-esteem will solve the issue for some reason or another your child has lost the ability to communicate his or her thoughts and feeling in a productive way. PAY ATTENTION TO YOUR CHILDREN AND ACKNOWLEDGE THEIR FEELINGS. don't start paying attention to them because of this behavior it will only continue.

  • rayechan profile image

    rayechan 6 years ago from Missouri

    As a former cutter, the article has some good points and other points that just are.. Eh.

    Although, you are right with cutting not being a fad but something someone uses when they're under extreme emotional pressure.

    Cutting can become out of control for some people, especially if a teen is under constant extreme emotional pressure. I know when I was growing up that I would turn to cutting more and more often because of my family situation.

    There are several downsides to cutting as well. I know several friends and myself included, found that cutting didn't always relieve the stress so we actually started branching out and tried other ways to "numb" ourselves. Pill popping, drugs, sex, things along those lines we fell to when we felt cutting couldn't make us feel numb. While I didn't follow the line of drugs, I did try pills and cutting deeper and deeper to help with numbing the stress I was feeling.

    If someone you know is cutting, the main suggestion is to let them know that they could come talk to you (a trusted person), or possibly putting them in touch with a professional. I know when I would mention cutting to my mother, she would ignore it so when I attempted suicide a 3rd time, she finally took me to see a professional.

    The main thing to do is to make sure that the teen can speak to someone that knows what to really do to help the teenager that is having problems.

    Myself and a few of my friends who have dealt with cutting can say that sometimes, therapy can go out the window if we're stressed enough and we can slip up and start up again. It's something that takes a lot of willpower and energy to completely beat. The best advice/suggestion I could give is just that the person who is cutting benefits greatly from professional help. Pressuring from parents isn't always easy to handle and may, sadly in the end, backfire onto the parents.

    If you suspect your teen is cutting, sit down and talk to them. It doesn't have to be about cutting in particular, just see if you can spot the root of the problem and go from there. (That's my opinion honestly)

  • profile image

    mary 6 years ago

    I have read alot about cutting and my heart goes out to all of the parents and mostly to the children that it is happening to. But I have a question: My daughter has a friend that is cutting I will admit when I found this out I was horrified and insisted that my daughter go to the school and talk to the social worker there. my daughter has become this girls therapist at first i though the girl was manipulating my daughter with guilt because every time the friend felt she wasn't getting enough attention from my daughter she would start telling ehr she was gonna cut my daughter has been reassuring her friend that she loves her and is always there for her the problem is this my daughter is in constant contact with this girl she has over 4000 text in less then 1 billing cycle she doesn't hangout with anyone and I have been told that her friends have been distancing themselves from her I feel my daughter is being emotionally drained by this friend she has no time for anyone or anything eles its not healthy for either of them I am pround of my daughter for being such a true friend but I am also worried for her emotionally and socially I told her she had to stop with the constant counseling of her friend she needs to tell her to go fo rreal councelling she canot help her i feel she is enabling her how do i handle this up to now nothing i have said has changed anything

  • profile image

    Nina 6 years ago

    As a cutter I would say somethings in this article are right on, but some really aren't. I do appreciate the part about how it isn't for a fad.

  • ahagen profile image

    ahagen 6 years ago from Topeka Kansas

    Great article, thank you! I work in the field of mental health (although I am not a licensed clinician) with youth identified as having serious emotional disturbance (SED). I have also experienced my stepdaughter cutting on herself. After working in the field for 10 years and seeing many girls have these serious issues, what I am seeing with my step daughter seems to be different. There is a group of girls whom she associates with and they are all very open about their cutting and actually talk about it and compare stories like it is fashion. I read a research article about self harm and it indicated although there is no empirical evidence, this behavior is likely contagious! Now that is really scary to me and says that more people need to be aware!

  • profile image

    Mom 7 years ago

    I am so scared. I don't know what I did wrong. I understand better than you think but don't even know how to begin telling you i did it too. I am glad you came to me. I will be there for you. I love you, and we can get through anything together.

    Thank you to all who shared their story. I wish you all the best, and hope you all and my son can find satisfying coping mechanisms, open the lines of communication and/or safer releases.

  • profile image

    dexter 7 years ago

    I haven't burnt myself in almost two weeks. That's good, at least for me. The reason I did it was because I am transsexual and I can't tell my parents yet and it made the dysphoria go away for a while. But I stopped for a while and try to distract myself but it doesn't always work so whenever it gets bad I take a shower so nobody can hear me freak out.

  • profile image

    jisme 7 years ago

    wat about wen yor teenager(15-17yrs.)does this especially wen with friends, or even newer acquaintences?and also has been cutting openly since app. age 14. her beautiful long skinny artistic arms r so so scarred and we love her so much. any insight, ANY would b a gift at this point. so far thar is no posting for the children that does this thing either with others or at least in thar presence... sincerely

  • Cici2hip4u profile image

    Cici2hip4u 7 years ago from United States of America

    The same thing happened to my friend, Kirsten. She was only 11 in a half when the last time I took a glance at the scars. One I saw those cutting marks, I was beside myself. I had the feeling that I was being surrendered. The scars looked really painful, but the good news is I just found that out a couple of months ago, and she might've quit or didn't feel the need to hurt herself any longer. I am not for sure on this because I haven't talked to her about it in those couple months. Parents, if this starts occurring to your child and you instantly find out somehow, don't try to disown them it just won't work. Try to help them cope with whatever is on their mind right now. Sure it can put a lot of pressure on your child, but please do whatever you can to try to benefit the needs of your child/teen.

    Hope a piece of this information helped!

  • profile image

    Emma 7 years ago

    I used to cut during my sophmore and junior year of high school. Cutting turned to an eating disorder which I am in recovery for now. The biggest mistake my parents made was to tell me that the cutting made me "stupid" and forbade me from wearing long sleeves in the house. The cutting was simply a result of years of emotional abuse, and while my counselor promised me that it would get better when they knew, she didn't understand.

    Parents: do NOT get angry at your child for cutting, especially if they have expressed unhappiness or anxiety about a home situation. PLEASE be kind to them, because the more understanding you try to be, the more they will lean on you for help in stopping. Do not make the mistake my parents made, because one problem simply turned into another of self-harm. Do not tell them they are mentally-ill, do not threaten them, do not make them feel guilty. My parents' treatment of me resulted in the end of our relationship. I have a fantastic life now, and I turned my life around with out them. It was worth it, but I often wish I had a supportive mother.

    To cutters: things can change. As addictive as it is, and as painful as the feelings and influences that cause cutting are, things can turn around. You just have to make it happen. Accept help in unlikely places, because sometimes that is the best there is.

  • profile image

    Kailey 7 years ago

    I cut myself for years. My parents to this day do not know I used to cut myself. When I started I had few (if any) friends, I was going through that "awkward" stage and of course when that happens you feel so confused, like you don't know who are or, better yet, who you're supposed to be. Suicide crossed my mind by I'd just drive the blade in a bit deeper and it made me feel better but, toward my time of "rock bottom", it did make me feel as good as long. Cuts aren't always made on the wrist, I'd do it on my stomach and thighs, so no one would see. In other words, it's not always obvious. So if you're a parent and you notice your child acting different or is becoming distant, please, talk to them. The reason they haven't talked to you is likely because they just don't know how. I didn't and I almost feel like I have this burdensome secret weighing on my heart. Best of luck and lots of love to anyone reading this who is cutting, you can get through it, there are better ways to relieve emotion, you just have to want it and try

  • profile image

    alex 7 years ago

    I remember the day when my mum found out I cut myself. The way she found out is she got nosy and read my diary. To all the parents reading this, don't act mad at your child if you find out. That didn't help one bit, it honestly made the cutting worse. I was mad at her for being so nosy and mad that she was mad at me. If you find out about your kid cutting just tell them you know about it. I personally find no harm in cutting, but give them options. Tellthem you're always there. Don't force them to go to a specialist person, I hated that. Just ahow love and support. I know the main reason I still cut is because my mum talked about it to me once and threatened to me to go to a mental hospital if I didn't stop. She hasn't ever talked about it to me again. She shows no support. Show your kid support, don't specifically talk about cutting that would make anyone uncomfortable. Just ask how they are doing once in a while, show some love and make it seem like you care.

  • profile image

    Alyssa 7 years ago

    I've been cutting for a couple months now, and I definitely agree with the people that say to talk to thir kids that cut without getting all mad. My mom read a conversation I had with my best friend about it and asked me if I did it (very angrily), and I said no. She said good, anyone who does is just doing it for attention and is a waste of space. Which is NOT true at ALL. I now know I can't go to my parents, and being so young (13) I don't really have anyone else to turn to except two of my best friends, one of which is worse than me. Because I don't have supporting parents, I cant stop, and the fact that they don't really care makes it that mush worse. So Please, please, be nice about it if and when you approach your kids, it will make a world of a difference.

  • profile image

    Leslie 7 years ago

    I'm a former cutter, I'm 33 years old now and haven't cut in well over 8 years now. The cutting helped me 'forget about the emotional pain" and focuse on the physical pain instead. To me it was a good trade off. I've sense then learned how to deal with emotional pain on my own. Most of it was just a matter of 'being listen too'. SO in saying that 15 year old who never knew of that past has started. I unlike many parents saw the signs right away the first time he did this about a month ago. I talked with him and he and I have a good talking relationship etc.. so he spilled a lot of just regular stress issues at school , football etc.. BUT being an ex cutter I knew this was somghing I needed to watch. Yesterday he did it again. My way of 'teaching him' that there's a better way to 'deal' than to cut is simple. Love, talking and he must feel that he's worth something more. That part of him feeling he's worth more has got to come from him. I'm always telling my children they mean the world to me and I'm proud of them no matter what. But this still happened because HE doesn't know how to 'deal' with his anger etc.. I'll try to keep yall posted.

  • profile image

    lindsey 7 years ago

    this is great my mom dosent unstand why i cut no matter how much i try to talk to her and she just keep making it worse telling me she is going to put me in the hospital or that i am only doing this for going to show her this then maybe she will understand...thanks

  • profile image

    christina 7 years ago

    im in 8th grade and i have been cutting sense 4th. i talked to my family who did NOT support me, in fact they have not helped me at all for that matter. im talking to these ladies but they don't help and personally i hate it. i hate this whole stupid artlce u wrote. n so do my friends who r "not" cutting. (plz) spare me the b.s. not all parents n family help. sometimes there the ones maken u want to do it. so what the hell am i soppused to do now? huh? yeah. thats what i thought. sometimes the people that shud b there arent. so what shud i do? i cant get help n so far i sure as hell don't want it. idk what to say but this b.s. isn't even comin close to mine.

  • profile image

    Ashley 7 years ago

    I am a 15 year old girl who has cut for a few years now. I would really like to make a point in addition to all the comments here..

    I think it's important to also understand your child as a person, not just focus on their cutting. My parents.. It's true, they're good parents, but only materialistically, and only one.. My mom lives far from me, and My dad doesn't really pay us much emotional or mental attention. We haven't even gone to the doctor's in years.

    One of my friend's snitched on me. Told the Guidance office two years ago. I was called to the nurse. The nurse told my dad. My dad asked me if it was true, and I lied. He never asked to see my marks, never said another word of it. I felt abandoned. I was hoping he would've known me well enough to know when I lied, and that when I lie, I'm really screaming for help.

    If you're child denies it, maybe it's true they didn't, but it's a possibility they're like me. Open communication is key.. But, if you don't start this early enough, well... They may never feel comfortable going to you.

    Parents, Make sure your kids always know they can come to you, whenever. And when I say whenever, I do mean whenever. In the middle of the night, or in the car. Let them talk. If you deny them once, it'll stay with them.

    Kids and Teens, It's okay to seek help from both your peers and elders. Your parents are usually there for you, in most cases. If you don't feel comfortable talking to them, maybe try a trusted teacher or another guardian. Just remember you're never alone, and someone somewhere understands.

  • profile image

    Alyssa 7 years ago

    About a year ago I started cutting. My friends found out and pretty much abandoned me as a friend. Eventually my mom found out and got mad, she told me if I did it again she would slap the crap out of me. I went straight to alcohol and drugs and eventually found myself cutting yet again. I have promised friends and family that I wouldn't do it, yet I have started again. Cutting can turn into an addiction, but the more parents try to take away stress relievers the more it starts coming back. I have been resisting so much that it is actually taking a mental toll on me. I have been trying to get help, but the last place I want to go is to my parents. If you are a parent dealing with a child that cuts, sit down and LISTEN don't get all pissy with them, that will make problems worse. Let them know that you still love them and that you still support them, get them help.

  • profile image

    Rummie 7 years ago

    I am a 14 year old male and I cut. I'd just like to help all you parents out a little bit. Before you get angry towards your child for cutting ask them why they do it. It'll make both you and your childs life better. For an example I cut as a stress reliever because I was abused by my mom all my life and CPS refused to help or get involved then on top of that I found my Grandpa dead. My grandpa was my BEST friend in the whole world. Then my folks got divorced and my mom blamed it all on me. Then told the judge that she wanted nothing to do with me. If you are going to talk to your child about their cutting please make sure you get informed on why they do it and try putting yourself in there shoes to understand what they go through on a day to day basis.

  • Info Help profile image

    Info Help 8 years ago from Chicago

    Hi Lela,

    I am a mother of a 15 year old daughter. She used to cut when she was going through her 8th grade year. Luckily, she only experimented with it and doesn't have any really bad scars. I ended taking her to talk to a professional as she didn't want to tell me about anything. She is now over that part in her life and is doing much better. The best thing I could do for her was listen to her.

  • Freudulant profile image

    Freudulant 9 years ago from North Carolina

    Very informative article. I just wrote a hub on the topic myself! Keep up the great work.

  • profile image

    Panic Attack Treatment 9 years ago

    WOW... this is so informative. My neice has been cutting for over a year now and i had no idea all that was behind it. This will help so much in understanding where she is at in life. Thank-you

  • Lela Davidson profile image

    Lela Davidson 9 years ago from Bentonville, Arkansas

    Yatesheika, I can't thank you enough for your comment. This is a very difficult behavior for many of us to understand and we can use all the help we can get. I really appreciate you taking the time to shed more light on this. And I'm glad you have 'recovered' - if that's the right terminology. Thank you.

  • profile image

    Yatesheika 9 years ago from British Columbia

    As a former cutter, I would have to agree with careyXcarnage.

    Not everyone cuts because they cannot express their feelings. In fact, I have known quite a few others and all of us had different reasons.

    I'm glad you pointed out that cutting is not done in order to in order to fit in or get attention. On that matter though, I would like to point out that cutters do put a lot of effort into hiding it. I hid it from all but my very best friends (we tell each other everything) and swore them to secrecy. The last thing I would've wanted would've been for everyone to know. This has been my experience with friends who used to cut as well. I would strongly question anyone who still cuts and has no problems exposing it to the world. If your child behaves this way than I would not be surprised if she is doing it for attention. While getting help is always advisable, if this is the case I would recommend it even more adamantly. Going to such extremes merely for attention is, in my opinion, an even more serious issue. Not to mention it gives legitmate cutters a bad name.

    Unless your child actually comes directly to you to discuss their cutting or otherwise makes it clear they wish to I wouldn't urge them to talk to you about it. She should talk to someone about it, preferably a person who is qualified to deal with it. That person just doesn't need to be you. If the child started cutting because she felt like she couldn't express her feelings it seems ludicrous to think that same child is suddenly going to be comfortable discussing what could be a more difficult and uncomfortable issue with you. Also if your child seems uncomfortable with the idea of discussing this with anyone I wouldn't overly pressure her. Forcing her to deal with it before she's ready will only make it more difficult when she is and chances are she'll resent you for it later. I would still monitor the situation just to be sure things aren't getting out of control. Also make sure your child knows that if and when she is ready you're there for her and will get her outside help if that is what she wants or needs.

    If your child cuts, I would strongly encourage you personally to go speak to a specialist and see what her advice is given your specific circumstances. Every situation is different and all I or any other cutter/former cutter can give you is general information based on our own experiences.

  • Lela Davidson profile image

    Lela Davidson 9 years ago from Bentonville, Arkansas

    careyXcarnage, I'd like to know. I would encourage you to post your thoughts here so that all the parents that read this will know how to help.

  • profile image

    careyXcarnage 9 years ago

    As a cutter, this article basically sucks.

    This gives no info on what I would like my mom to do if she found out.

    If anyone really wants to know about what to do if your kid is cutting, please email me, and don't read this stupid article.

  • profile image

    Michelle 9 years ago

    I just discovered my 14 almost 15 year old son has experimented with cutting. Once about a month ago and once last night. I am terrified. My son and I talked, he cried, I felt like my heart had been stabbed repeatedly. He is my world!!!!! He took down two hotline numbers and put them into his cell phone. He is very apprehensive about talking to anyone face to face but is more than willing to use the hotline.

    Lost, frightened, and heartbroken,


  • vinz07 profile image

    vinz07 10 years ago

    Hello..This article is very helpful to all parents....Parenting is very inportant...

  • Maddie Ruud profile image

    Maddie Ruud 11 years ago from Oakland, CA

    One thing I think keeps people from truly understanding why someone would cut is that we do not often speak of it as an addiction, which it can become. Cutting actually releases endorphins in the brain, and for a depressed teen (or adult), this boost is enough to prompt repeated self-injury.

  • Lela Davidson profile image

    Lela Davidson 11 years ago from Bentonville, Arkansas

    Thank you Kristen. It's frightening what we're up against.~Lela

  • profile image

    Kristen 11 years ago

    As a mother of a teenager, I really appreciate this article. I did know about cutting but not the why's and what to do about it. Teenagers are a strange phenomenon and it is important for us parents to keep up on what kids are doing to themselves.


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