Teen Girls: A Crash Course

Conflict, communication, and connection with your daughter

Cutting to Cope Part Two

"Molly’s mom found out about Molly’s self-cutting one day upon encountering her daughter emerging from the shower. Even though Molly chose to cut on her belly and upper thighs as an attempt to keep her behavior an absolute secret, a chance meeting in the bathroom revealed her behavior." Dr. Lucie Hemmen discusses ways to identify and treat cutting behavior in teens. Read More

teen cutting

I just found out from another parent that her daughter was told by my daughter that she was cutting her self-with a push pin. I am thankful for this info for me and my daughter to work on this. I have just found out and have not seen her arms. I have not told my husband yet because he will probable do exactly what he isn't suppose to do. I just can't believe it!!!I am in shock. I want to scream, cry and shake her and say why are you doing this!!!! I want to talk to her but don't want to say the wrong thing. Will call Peditrician and see if he has any therapist with this experience. Help!
Would love to hear back from you.

response to teen cutting

I feel for you and your family. This is such a difficult issue and there aren't many answers out there. My daughter cuts. Badly. It started with things like push pins and paper clips but quickly escalated to exacto knives within a few months. She has been diagnosed with depression and anxiety. The medical community (we live on Toronto, Canada) has been somewhat helpful but has not been able to provide solutions. It seems that as long as she is not trying to commit suicide - cutting is somewhat acceptable. I can't believe I am saying that but it feels true. We have tried yoga, cognitive based therapy (CBT), mindfulness (Jon Kabat-Zinn) and more recently, Zoloft (anti-depressant/anti-anxiety medication) to deal with the depression and anxiety, but it seems no one wants to specifically address the cutting issue. She still cuts.

I try to discuss it calmly and from a health perspective (altho I want to shake her and scream at her!). I try not to judge her but rather just to talk about everyday things while keeping her wounds clean and dry. I try not to respond emotionally, because I feel her emotions are out of control and I cannot add to that. It's not easy. With me, my husband is angry and thinks she does it to blackmail us into getting what she wants but I know that is not the case. She cannot help herself. With her, we try to put on a calm and united face. We talk about it. Most times she gets very agitated and upset when we discuss it. We provide her with information about keeping wounds clean,we tell her not to cut in same place over and over again (they do), we remind of other things she can do to relieve stress and we try to make other moments enjoyable, or at least, less stressful. I feel like I am living with a heroin addict and providing methadone treatments because we do not ban cutting, I do not remove all cutting implements because she finds or buys more, so we try to tell her how to do it more safely because I would rather talk about it and educate her than have her hide it from us completely. I do occasionally look for and take cutting tools away just as a reminder that I care. One time I found all of her "tools" under the mattress (they normally keep them nearby). I replaced it with a note telling her how much we love her.

I am so worried about school starting in September when I know the stress will increase for her. I have no doubts that it will get much worse. She has twice come to the point of needing stitches but she manages to hide it long enough so that it cannot be stitched (risk of sealing in any infection is worse and after 12-18 hrs dr's here are less inclined to stitch.)Sometimes things are fine for days or a few weeks and then she cuts again.

It's sooooo hard to understand. Keep looking for information, talk to friends & family. You'd be surprised to find out how many teens (and adults!) have similar issues. I was shocked. It helps to talk about it and relieve some of your own stress.

Keep communicating in small ways so you can hopefully talk about larger issues.

Wish you the best!

My son was being bullied in

My son was being bullied in middle school and as a result of all his pain, he started using paper clips to make scratches along his arms and legs. I was also shocked and felt sick inside wanting to help him and feeling helpless! I decided to take him to a therapist and since then he confessed to doing it once more. I thought this was over, but we still have more work to do....Hang in there, keep communication open without judging and get professional help before it gets worse.

Power of suggestion

My 12yo - so far - is clean. However, she's obsessed with Instagram and searches for "cutting" "self-harm" and a new one for me... "blithe". I'm a little shocked to see they are catching at this age. (She has friends who are already in the loop as well...)

How powerful is this trend? And since she doesn't have the same pressures that a 16-year old may face, why are kids feeling so distraught this young?

There is proper help you have to seek it out

My son started cutting Oct 2013. I of course freaked the first time when I saw his arm and even walked in on him cutting himself. After what I would not do now was a trip to the local hospital ER after a 911 call it was a mistake. They gave him a blood and alcohol test and a suicide watch. He didn't need any of that now that I am more educated and going to the ER was a wrong move on my part. The ER doctor even stated he didn't know where to "put" him as they had no facilities, no beds etc. He wasn't trained for this and it was obvious. I was very frustrated with my local hospital and school. I work in research and started to educate myself. I even called these researchers and doctors of these studies, key note speakers and authors on the subjects. The more I learned the more I learned they too are lost. They don't help with the WHY they are cutting just the other factors of they are cutting if that makes sense.

Long story short the most successful find is a book written by Dr Michael Hollander, Helping teens who cut. It's fantastic and very helpful. I in turn spoke to Dr Hollander myself and together we sought a QUALIFIED therapist who specialized in adolescents who cut and DBT therapy (dialect behavior therapy). Read the book and you will get what I am saying. These two treatments/specialties are dyer in getting the right treatment the first time and not freaking out as a parent. It is the quickest and most successful form of therapies that work. www.behavioratech.com to find a therapist or even understand what DBT as other therapists may have had DBT training but not certified training and you can educated yourself to know what DBT is and how to find a qualified therapist with it like I did. Even tho dr Hollander and myself could not locate a therapist together locally which is very important to stay local he stated I needed to find someone who had BOTH adolescent cutting and DBT.

I would not give up and called every single group in the area, asked the ppl who answered about both skill sets and if I was close like a couple of times had them ask the therapist to find or they were not qualified or not comfortable with my son's needs. I found 1, a needle in the hay stack as big as the Earth as I live in a farm community. Yes 1 who was perfect and with over 20yrs experience with BOTH and yet no others I had called of dozens offices, hospitals, treatment facilities or even schools had ever heard of this therapist and she is local. I met with her and she is exactly what I am hoping my son will need. Hes a great kid who has never been a problem or in trouble and always has done as told and has changed. Hes depressed, introverted, lost interest in college, cuts and avoids me. Still he is not bad just he needs help and this book made me realize I am not at fault, I don't need to freak out and also helped me understand how to help him, myself and what he is thinking when he cuts and why he does it.

Get the book. That's the best advice I can give you besides not giving up or beating yourself up.

Loving kindness

Thank you all for your posts. It helps to have some other people who are dealing with this issue of cutting. I have a 13 years old daughter who is cutting for months now and I just found out in late January. It has been a shock for me as well, I have read books on cutting and my daughter goes to see a therapist twice a week. we try to talk openly about her cutting however it is hard to keep my emotions in check. See for a long time I was one of those kids who hid their feelings and pretended everything was FINE (Fearful, Insecure, Neurotic and Emotional). I turned to other things to cope so I understand the cutting as a symptom. Does it make it easier to deal with? NO... I do my best to love her back to health and come from a place of compassion. I do not hide anything because if she wants to cut she will. I am hoping that as time passes with therapy she will gain the coping tools she needs and the cutting will become less. In the meantime I tell her as well as myself stay open to suggestions, honest about how you feel and willing to change. Keep the faith and I know that good things are waiting for all of us. What doesn't kill us makes us stronger...My prayers are with all of you and your families...

We just found out our 13 year old has been cutting for almost 2 years

I just found out almost a week ago that my daughter has been cutting for two years. I check her phone weekly and have noticed in the last 4 months or so that when I ask for her phone, it takes her time to bring it to me...I told her I knew she was hiding something and I would find out. I really only anticipated finding colorful language, which I have found before, and really had given up any speeches about that. Well, I was able to grab her phone from her on Friday night, and what did I find? A conversation in her texting, with someone from the INTERNET that she doesn't even personally know. Of course she denied it. And, I practically forced myself on her, to find the cutting on her thigh, which she stated in her text. I then quickly had a fight/flight...and soon "freeze", and went into "you are not in trouble and I love you very much"...on to why are you doing this? Can you tell me why you hate yourself? Are you able and willing to talk with someone else about this, like a counselor or therapist? She quickly agreed. And I just held her for awhile, and got her into a counselor the very next Monday. I do not understand why THIS child could hate herself so much? She is smart, always one of the best at sports or whatever she does...I read more texts and she was practically counseling another girl about her anorexia and another girl contemplating suicide!!! I can't make heads or tails of this at all, and I don't imagine I will ever be able to. I myself have suffered from depression from sexual abuse as a child and being raped as a teenager, I shared any and all of this with her counselor, and he told me to share this with her, my experiences. And I have begun to. And will continue to do so. I don't understand it and I don't have to, this is way bigger than myself or my husband, and I guess we just take it a day at a time, possibly hours, minutes or seconds at a time when we need to. Does anyone else have trouble with their spouse not having the ability to be "empathetic" to the situation? Mine, first thing out of his mouth to her was "why would you do this to yourself, you have no reason to feel this way" at which time we left the room and I ever so calmly explained NOW is not the time to guilt or shame her. And, I don't think he see's what is coming out of his mouth that way. It's like fucking edit yourself for crying out loud. And, again, the other night, asking her practically the same question, while I was out of the room...he even told me about it. It makes me so angry with him, I swear I actually see red! This is our daughters LIFE we are talking about!!! His own brother committed suicide! Sorry, I am just venting...and, I am by no means the perfect mother, and am probably more to blame for my daughters situation than anyone else. But, as of right now, NO, I am not going to question my child, and am going to take it as slowly as I can with opening up this line of communication, because I need her to trust me, and KNOW that I am not ashamed of her and love her any less for the way she feels...
So, for now, I am trying a combination of therapy, increasing family activities, fresh air and exercise, some alone time for her, and maintaining some sort of a social life...one which does not include the internet, instagram or Twitter...
I don't know if anyone will even see this post, it looks like the last ones were dated almost a year ago, 2013...but it helped reading the other posts...I hope all of you have made strides with your kids...take care

"why would you do this to

"why would you do this to yourself, you have no reason to feel this way" This statement particularly struck me because this is where I believe the answer to the question "why?" lies. In this statement the child is essentially told that she should not feel. She learns to suppress anger, sadness, and fear within herself and may not know how or when it is acceptable to express them. She unfortunately has learned that she can release these emotions through cutting. If she is allowed and given permission to freely express how she is feeling she may not need the pressure released in such a harmful way. She needs to know that all emotions she experiences are valid and can be expressed in a healthy way.

Response to "We just found out..."

So sorry to hear your daughter is suffering and for your own past experiences. I posted here when our daughter's cutting started to get really serious. Like another poster above, We have heard that DBT (Dialectical Based Therapy) can be very effective treatment. Our daughter (soon to be 16) is currently undergoing some DBT in a hospital setting and we hope to continue it when she comes out at a private clinic. It is very expensive but seems extremely supportive. The youth receive personal therapy, group therapy, phone support and there all also parent groups. I'm not really one for discussing these matters publically, but parent support groups have been extremely help for us. You are not alone and there are so MANY kids suffering. A mental health facility specific to youth should be able to point you in the right direction. So many services are fractured and even health professionals do not seem to have answers. You really need to take education upon yourself.
Not sure about your husband... possibly he just doesn't have the right skills to deal with it at this time - or it's too painful, especially considering his own brother suffered. Parent groups do help open up lines of communication between all family members.
Sounds like you are doing all the right things. And you are not to blame - we all individuals and some just can't cope with life the same way as others. Continue treatment, continue talking and take care of yourself.
Wishing you & your family all the best. It's a very difficult path.

I cannot tell you just how

I cannot tell you just how much I appreciate your quick response and suggestions. I was wondering about group therapy as well as parent support groups. I have been trying to find out and educate myself as much as possible since last Friday and getting as much information as possible from her first counseling appointment on Monday. We also have an appointment with our primary care physician today and she has always given us great referrals and seems to really keep track of what her patients feedback are on the referrals she gives out. I also found in her phone a statement "I wonder if I attempted suicide if anyone would care or miss me?" Of course, I shared this with her counselor, obviously, I just don't see how I missed so many "signs". I would notice things or she would make certain remarks, or there would be certain "red flags", at which I would address and talk about with her, but, I just didn't put two and two together. And, considering my own past, I should have known. And, I know I cannot blame myself, I think I am still in shock from it all. But, the more I am reading, I am finding out that quite a few of these girls are outgoing, do well in school, aren't necessarily withdrawn, etc. And, I know it may sound weird, but, I am almost grateful for my past experiences, so I can share with her my own past feelings worthlessness and helplessness. If we can survive these experiences, somehow, they have made me a stronger person today...if only we could know then, what we do now!
As for my husband, yes, I think his reaction is in small part due to his brother. And his knee jerk reaction to everything is "what's this going to cost?", and I told him this was going to be a long and not so easy journey of therapy and whatever else. And when we came home and I spoke to him about the therapist stating, "this will be a long process", my husband stated, "of course he did, just like a chiropractor saying you need to go twice a week for 6 months, it's all about the money". I am just speechless. I don't understand. He loves our children with all of his heart, but his knee jerk reactions are going to get him a slap in the face...you know, like when someone is hysterical? (No, I have never hit anyone, I hope you understand what I mean).
I have never heard of DBT, and will definitely look into this and ask our PCP about it today, as well as her therapist. It sounds like it may be helping your daughter? Has your daughter felt comfortable at all with talking with you about anything? And do you now know what her "triggers" are or able to identify when she is at that point?
Again, I so appreciate your response and all of the advise you have given me, you are giving me some great starting points, and for that, I cannot thank you enough. I do hope and wish you and your family the best in your daughters recovery. I will definitely keep you in our thoughts and prayers...and for all of the other thousands of girls out there...
Best Wishes


Triggers? Our daughter suffers from severe social anxiety so cutting would normally take place just before friends came over or she went out to meet them. Sometimes it was out of a combination of depression and boredom. When we'd walk into her room and she quickly hid what she was doing - obvious indication - but too late to help. Triggers can also be stress at school, - exams, performance, or times when reports are due - so we try to talk about how she can deal with it and try to support her. Once I promised her a pair of expensive shoes if she stopped cutting for a period of time. It worked but I am not endorsing this - sometimes cutting is a coping method that you just CAN'T stop and no one wants to set these kids up for failure or make them feel they are bad because they cannot stop. Sounds like you are doing a good job - keep communication open and keep her interested in other activities.

Our daughter will not talk to us about ANYTHING, which is extremely difficult, but seems to be open and honest with therapist and school counselor. As long as she's talking to someone - don't take it personally that it may not be you - that's a great sign.

As for suicidal thoughts - we've been through that too and had several hospital stays - she's never attempted suicide but thoughts strong enough to get her an admission. We bought a small safe for ALL meds in the house - OD's on Tylenol are not uncommon, and we have locked away all liquor (husband collects single malts), not that we drink a lot. Sometimes these kids are more prone to substance abuse. Educate yourself on signs of marijuana use - helps them to feel more relaxed but can lead to other issues. FYI - she also used to take apart razors and buy exacto blades - I take them away now whenever I see them. I know she can get more but maybe stops her in the meantime. Safety is number one priority!

Money IS a big issue and possibly your husband is voicing frustration and it comes out the wrong way. I don't know where you live (we are in Canada) where we have access to "free" health care but it's difficult to get because there isn't enough support for youth mental health. Waiting lists here can be very long and private treatment can cost $1000/mo for full DBT. That being said, the sooner these kids get help - the faster they get better - and it's easier to treat someone whose problems have not been ongoing for years. Many things to think about.... And yes, sometimes Men are from Mars and women are from Venus but in the long run... we all love and want to help our kids.

Take care.

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Lucie Hemmen, Ph.D. is a clinical psychologist and author of the book Parenting a Teen Girl.


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