Grappling with complex emotions is a typical part of life – particularly during adolescence, when life takes so many twists and turns. Part of developing emotional maturity involves learning coping skills to fall back on when events seem overwhelming. However, not everyone’s coping mechanisms are equally healthy or well-adjusted. Some teens respond to mental health issues like stress and anxiety by deliberately hurting themselves. What constitutes self-harm, and what should you do if you recognize this behavior in your son?
You may have trouble imagining what would motivate someone to purposely cut, bruise, burn or otherwise injure himself, but self-harm happens more commonly than you might realize.
Though self-harm alone isn’t a recognized mental illness, it is a typical behavioral pattern among young people with low self-esteem and an overall negative outlook on life. Your son might be more vulnerable to cutting or other types of self-mutilation if he also has a mental health issue like depression, PTSD or an eating disorder.
Why Would My Son Hurt Himself?
Many people instinctively equate self-harm with suicidal ideation. However, self-harming doesn’t necessarily mean your loved one is contemplating ending his life. People with suicidal tendencies usually believe their loved ones would be better off without them. Meanwhile, adolescent boys may turn to self-harm because it gives them a temporary release valve for their negative emotions, or provides a sense of control amid unpredictability.
Examples of self-harm include cutting, biting, burning or scratching the skin, or picking at wounds to prevent them from healing. Boys may also hit objects with the intent to hurt themselves, such as punching a wall or running headfirst into a door. Teens can begin experimenting with self-injury as early as middle school, perhaps in response to peer pressure or something they’ve seen on TV.
Warning Signs of Self-Harm
Media depictions of self-harm tend to make it seem as if only young women do this, which is not only misleading, but could also cause parents and other authority figures to miss red flags associated with this issue. The more you assume teen boys don’t self-harm, the less likely you are to spot potential warning signs and intervene on your son’s behalf.
- Isolation: Young men who deliberately hurt themselves usually wait until they’re alone to do so. Withdrawing from friends and family in favor of more solitary pursuits could indicate a desire to self-harm.
- Low self-esteem: In the absence of other, healthier outlets, the urge to self-harm could arise out of a distorted body image or dysmorphic disorder.
- Secrecy: People who self-injure may be cautious about making the wounds in places where they can readily conceal the marks under their clothes. If your son insists on wearing pants, long-sleeved shirts and sweaters even in warm weather, this could be a warning sign.
- Dishonesty: Due to the cycle of shame associated with self-harm, someone who cuts, burns or bruises himself will typically lie about where the injuries came from, e.g., claiming he had an accident while cooking or playing sports.
- Substance abuse: Self-harm and addiction have a close connection. Adolescents who begin hurting themselves to seek relief from their emotional turmoil may try drugs and alcohol for the same reason. Whether a teen with self-harming tendencies progresses to substance use or vice versa, both can have severe consequences.
Self-Harm Resources for Families
While it can be alarming to discover that your son has been hurting himself, you do not have to face this challenge alone. At ARCH Academy, we have tailored a mental health and substance abuse program specifically for the needs of young men ages 14 through 17. Contact us today when you are ready to seek help for your son and your family.