Self-Harm Explained

As a parent, you hope to raise a son who is happy and successful – who has a strong sense of identity and high self-esteem. Unfortunately, the teenage years are a period of insecurity, turbulent emotions and inner turmoil that can result in choices that parents do not understand. Chief among these are substance abuse and self-harm. 

Self-harm, also called non-suicidal self-injury (NSSI), is a pattern of intentionally cutting, burning, scratching or picking at the skin which is tied to strong emotions. Teens may use many different methods to harm themselves, but the goal is usually the same: to alleviate pain, cry out for help or break through feelings of numbness.

Self-harming behaviors are not strongly linked with suicidal behavior. However, they are connected to substance abuse and mental illness. When you believe that your son has begun to cut, burn or wound himself intentionally, it is time to seek professional help.


When Does It Start?

Self-injury often begins in middle school. Boys may learn of this behavior from television shows, music, or the internet. It is also common for teens and tweens to learn about self-harm from their peers – this is actually one of the primary risk factors for youth self-injury.


At-Risk Youth

It is estimated that one in eight people has engaged in some type of self-harming behavior, and studies show that this issue is becoming more common as time goes on. What puts someone at risk of non-suicidal self-injury?

Some people are at a higher risk for self-harm than others. For example, teenagers are the demographic most likely to cut, burn, or scratch themselves habitually. They are dealing with strong emotions but may lack the ability to express these feelings to parents or peers. Non-diagnosed mental illness, substance use and interpersonal issues are also factors that may influence self-injury. For these boys, self-harm serves as an outlet for chaotic, overwhelming emotions. 

The catalysts of this behavior are myriad and may overlap. Common causes include:

  • Disruption in the family unit (divorce or fighting)
  • Learning that friends are self-harming
  • Low self-esteem and poor body image
  • Mental illnesses like depression and anxiety
  • Upheavals in one’s social life
  • Substance abuse
  • Lacking healthy coping skills


Is My Son Self-Harming?

Few things are more frightening than learning that your child may have a problem with self-harm, addiction or mental illness. If your son is displaying any of the below symptoms of self-injury, we encourage you to seek immediate professional help.

Signs of teen self-harm:

  • Wearing long sleeves and pants, even in hot weather
  • Unexplained injuries (cuts, scratches, burns)
  • Increased secrecy and isolation from family and friends
  • Linear cuts that are parallel or appear intentional
  • Finding items that could be used for self-harm (knives, razors, scissors, lighters)
  • Refusing to wear short sleeves, swim trunks or shorts
  • Wearing bracelets, watches or sweatbands that are never removed

It is important to note that self-harm can also be indirect in nature. In these instances, teenage boys may self-sabotage through risky sexual behavior, heavy alcohol consumption, drug use, or disordered eating. These choices may not leave marks, but they do require clinical intervention.


Help for Teen Boys Who Self-Harm

The first step in helping your son is to educate yourself about self-injurious behaviors. Try to open an avenue of nonjudgemental communication to discuss his emotions and stressors. If this behavior has been going on for some time and is an indicator of deeper issues, you should also enlist professional help. 

At ARCH Academy, we have designed a mental health program specially tailored to teenage boys. We understand what it takes to recover from self-harm, mental illness, and substance use disorders. For more information about our clinical programming, please contact ARCH Academy today.