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Posted by: Exhausted mother | 2012/11/14

Our teenage daughter cuts - ANY advice please

Was wondering if you have any practical advice (what to say, how to react, boundaries) for parents of teenagers who cut. I have read as much info as I can about self-harm and understand that it is often an addiction/maladaptive coping mechanism &  that she requires love, support &  understanding but at times it seems as though by being caring/understanding/non-judgemental we are almost encouraging her/giving our consent to her to continue the behaviour. Our daughter (17y) has been medicated for depression since we became aware of the cutting (8 months ago) and sees a psychologist regularly but we see no improvement  she still cuts &  is often moody and argumentative (with her parents and siblings). Also difficult to cope with our (younger) children at home who are caring and concerned for her but they see her behaviour as attention seeking and they view our responses to the cutting/teenager as unfair (i.e. if they were misbehaving we would tell them to behave themselves and there would be some sort of consequence if they continued the behaviour). She struggles to actually talk to us but has said she feels trapped –  We have recently become concerned about inappropriate internet use but I suppose if we removed internet privillages/the cell phone that will be another reason to feel " trapped"  ... I probably need a parents support group (do you know of any that would specifically deal with Self-Harm?) - have no funds left in med aid for my own shrink and all spare cash is being used for our daughter''s meds and shrink (neither of which seem to be helping much)! ..... Help!

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Our expert says:
Expert ImageCyberShrink

Cutting is a highly economical way for kids to freak out their parents - we can't help but feel horrified and alarmed when they do it. Fortunately, except in specific and special circumstances, it usually isn't about suicide, but is a signal of being upset and demanding attention.
So try to remain calm, firstly. Its not an addiction ( annover-used and unhelpful term ) but can become a bad habit, which deserves expert assessment and help in breaking the habit and substituting more effective ways to cope when upset, from a specialist psychologist. I'd prefer a psychologist, as meds are usually not the answer.
It is not usually primarily about Depression, and antidepressants usually don't help ( though of course they might be needed if there happens to be a significant properly diagnosed Major depressive Disorder in addition to the cutting ).
And a psychologist needs experience and sophistication, familiarity with this particular problem, and to use modern techniques such as CBT ( Cognitive-Behaviour Therapy ) rather than old-fashioned wishy-washy analytic type methods which don't work.
Any competent psychologist, having properly assessed your child, should be able to give you detailed advice on how specifically to respond to her specific patterns of cutting, so as to diminish its occurrence. Such broader intervention is a critically important aspect of proper treatment of this conditiopn, and should never be omitted. Do set up a session with the psychologist to discuss this issue and to draw up a response program to handle her crises.
Showing understanding does not mean communicating approval, and one does not want to reward such self-damaging behaviours. And if she receives loads of attention and love when she cuts, that undercuts, as it were, motivation to stop doing anything that is thus rewarding.
SO your younger children are significantly right - there needs to be negative consequences, carefully chosen on the advice of your shrink, for bad behaviour, and cutting IS bad behaviour.
And it IS manipulative behaviour, too.
I believe it is abusive for any parent to allow uncontrolled and unsupervised internet and cell-phone access to a child. There are many ways a computer technician could advise you to check on what she is doing with all her time online ( which she is in a sense blackmalining you to allow ) - and there are somne dangerous and definitely harmful sites out there which very actively encourage cutting and self-harm, and no such child should ever be allowed access to these ighly irresponsible sites. A cutter may also use social media to contact and swap tips and cuts with other cutters online, which is also unhelpful.
A parents / family support group would be an excellent idea, but I have never come across one, in SA or in any other country. As I mentioned above there is the very opposite, sites which encourage self-damage, which makes the lack of support groups all the worse.
IF the shrink's you have been paying so expensively, don't seem to be producing results, seriously consider seeking a second opinion, as this type of problem is often omitted from SA shrink training, and some shrinks really don't know how to handle it.

The information provided does not constitute a diagnosis of your condition. You should consult a medical practitioner or other appropriate health care professional for a physical exmanication, diagnosis and formal advice. Health24 and the expert accept no responsibility or liability for any damage or personal harm you may suffer resulting from making use of this content.

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Our users say:
Posted by: Tas | 2012/11/18

Wow, there are a lot of different opinions. I think everyone is trying to put all kids who cut into one box with one reason behind it... And it''s not like that. Every case is different and tough love may work for some, but then there will be the child who takes it seriously and dies.

I also used to cut when I was a teenager, but for me it was NOT an attention thing. I made sure no one ever saw my cuts/ scars. A few times my mom did ask me about cuts, I would give an excuse and it never went further than that. If my mom had confronted me, I would have just become more secretive. As it is, I started cutting different parts of my body that were not as exposed. I was and still am extremely ashamed of it. But- had I got support at that age, I think it would have helped- I did suffer from depression and only years later, when I literally fell apart and was admitted into hospital did I go on antidepressants.

I don''t think anyone can offer one solution. Every case is different and that''s why going to a professional who knows is the only solution. Unless of course you want to take the chance of burying your child.

Reply to Tas
Posted by: Nini | 2012/11/15

@Laatiqa - I never suggested a support group? I said that perhaps the mom needs to speak to someone professional so that she herself can learn some coping mechanisms!

whether it be turning her back on her child, or entertaining the child''s behavior - my point is that she needs to get someone to help her develope the skills needed to deal with her daughter.

Reply to Nini
Posted by: Laatiqa | 2012/11/14

Sorry was supposed to be diabetic and the comment about the support group was meant for the mother with the cutting-teen! MY BAD LOL

Reply to Laatiqa
Posted by: Laatiqa | 2012/11/14

Today my mother came home and told me about this post and I just felt that a teens point of view was needed.

Im 16 years old right now and I started cutting myself at about age 13. Im ashamed of the scars it left behind as to the fact that it is on my wrist... I can admit that I was looking for attention but my mum quickly turned her back against me and showed no attention to me... So... I carried on and quickly got attention from my school peers and other family friends... Lol only now I realized how ignorant I was. If my mum was to take me to psyciatrists and all other sorts of doctors, I guess I would have gotten some sick satisfaction out of it, yeah right.... In my opinion even though there is no problem psyciatrists will asure that one is created... Alot of young teens are put on drugs at a early age... What are you teacing us? '''' A pill a day makes the problems go away?"  You''ll say that Ms Kelly doesnt know what it''s like to be a mother but she has alot more savvy than most of you''ll... Pardon me if you''ll find me rude but every now and then you have to do a reality check... Nini, you say that you need a support group but honestly by puuting down your foot and by being the woman in the house by not helping your daughter out of this but by pushing her thru, you will save yourself alot more time... I am now a type 1 siabetic and still going strong... Yes i do need support because there is something physically wrong with me and not mentally... Thanks Lilly for being the wonderfull mother that you are, and Kelly, you will make a GREAT mum  )

Reply to Laatiqa
Posted by: Leila | 2012/11/14

Kelly I stand by you. I have not found your comments to be offensive as such. I see people really flip when things dont get said the way they want. They dont realize that each person is an individual and there is nothing wrong in saying your say in a respectful way. Its all about respect, ladies!

Reply to Leila
Posted by: Kelly | 2012/11/14

Each to their own I guess.

Reply to Kelly
Posted by: Nini | 2012/11/14

Again Kelly, I stand by what I say - your post is insensitive and offensive.

Until you have kids, you will never know...

Reply to Nini
Posted by: Kelly | 2012/11/14

Lilly you one of the few moms who are strong enough to really help you child help herself and for that you should be commended! None of this tramping on eggshells in your own home. Some very good advise there that I hope other moms would follow and I''m glad your teen has turned out well.

Reply to Kelly
Posted by: Lilly | 2012/11/14

My daughter was diagnosed with diabetes Type 1 at age 13 - she''s 15 now and from the start I made it clear - told her that she will not go sit in a corner and feel sorry for herself but get up, dust herself off and carry on with life! There are kids out there who are much worse off ... and a few months after that the cutting started! As I said, I didn''t tolerate the behavior and today I have a beautiful, well-adjusted teenager (with Type 1 diabetes). The moment you approve of this behavior or any other sorry-for-myself feeling or show that it affects you, they will take full advantage of it. Remember, teenagers don''t have the wisdom we do as adults and therefore it''s our duty as parents to not only guide them, but to toughen them up! It''s a hard cruel world out there and humanity don''t have time or patience to deal for young adults feeling sorry for themselves! My advice to this mom is to take away all priviledges (cell phone, internet usage, DSTV, TV in the room etc) and tell her to either snap out of it or face the concequences. Remember mommy, your baby is growing up and she won''t always get away with this behavior - sometime soon you will have to kick her out of the nest and you better make sure those wings are strong enough to fly!

Reply to Lilly
Posted by: Kelly | 2012/11/14

Nini you go and break your back trying to ''help'' your little angels all you want, you just enabling them and killing yourself slowly with the stress. I do not think any of my posts were offensive in the least.

Toughen up people! These kids need some tough love every now and then to keep them looking straight ahead to a bright future.

Reply to Kelly
Posted by: Kelly | 2012/11/14

Aah thank you Lilly! For a moment I thought everyone had gone insane. The things kids do to themselves these days...they kind of like fashion statements, which at the same time allows them to get away with murder and still be mommy''s little angel who needs all the help she can get.

Guys get a grip and use your authority! I''m not saying abuse your kids but draw the line between what is allowed and not and punish them for their wrongs not reward them!

On the other hand yes you are right, there are those that really need the help and it is quit easy to distinguish between the 2 if you truely know your child.

Reply to Kelly
Posted by: Pepper | 2012/11/14

But remember Lilly and Kelly, not every situation is the same. There are the odd brats that do it for attention, I''m sure. But in this case it really doesn''t seem like it''s that simple. It''s like assuming every overweight person lives on junk food - every person and every situation is different, and some people are not as strong as others.

Reply to Pepper
Posted by: Lilly | 2012/11/14

I have 2 kids and my eldest started cutting as well - I agree with Kelly! I told her to either stop or completely mutilate herself because I will NOT tolerate such behavior and guess what - she did!!! She''s super ashamed of the scars it left because I told everybody about it and made sure she knew that I told! I didn''t tolerate the attention seeking behavior and yes Kelly is right - it''s a perfect way to manipulate a parent and you should the mom should stand her ground!!! Kids have it too easy these days - take away the internet, cellphone and everything else and see how quickly she snaps out of it!!!

Reply to Lilly
Posted by: Kelly | 2012/11/14

CS''s advise is spot on.
''Cutting is a highly economical way for kids to freak out their parents'' really sums up my point on cutting. Also glad he mentioned the manipulation, these teens know exactly what they need to get their parents under their control while looking the victim.

Reply to Kelly
Posted by: Pepper | 2012/11/14

I used to be a cutter. I did it for years without my parents noticing. My boyfriend spilt the beans on me and now nearly 10 years later I am so embarrassed of what I did.

Please do not take Kelly''s advice. I have read Kelly''s replies to other posters and her ignorance stuns me.

Cutting is supposed to be a " private"  thing if you will, a secret that the cutter has. It is not used for manipulation at all, well at least in MY experience, I bet your daughter doesn''t like the fact that you found out, even if she is getting help. Exhausted Mother, did you ever learn the reason behind her cutting? The reason for the depression? It sounds like you guys are doing your best for the children, so it can''t be home life. How is her school work? Does she have friends? Why does she feel trapped?

Now I hate suggesting this, but have you ever managed to look through her phone to see what her and her friends are talking about? It sounds like a huge invasion of privacy, but really it''s out of love and desperation and even if she doesn''t understand it now, she will when she is older. My parents never asked how my day was, ever, they just weren''t interested, I do wish they had more of an interest, even if it was invading my privacy.

I do agree with Maria that you must set boundaries- after all, just because she is depressed and has issues doesn''t actually mean she should be able to get away with murder. She must know that the boundaries are set, again because you love her, and you must also explain to her that she is old enough to know the difference between right and wrong, she is old enough to know how her behaviour is negatively affecting her siblings and really, she is already getting special treatment and doesn''t need any more. If you do not do this, she will push and push and push until you snap and then she''ll still blame you.

I can understand from your other children''s point of view- this is one of the things that went on in my family to the extent that I wanted to run away (and I did, for a few hours). There is nothing more unfair that one child being able to do something and the other child not being able to do that. So again, boundaries and yes, punish her. She is depressed, sure, but again she is old enough and I''m sure smart enough to know when she can get away with the murder, and it must stop otherwise all your children are going to start pushing your buttons.

And speak to the psychiatrist- for all you know your daughter is telling him/ her that she is as good as dandy and that life is great. The doc might not know the meds aren''t working and that she is still as depressed as ever. Maybe phone or go in when he/ she has a chance and explain you are running out of money, it doesn''t seem to be helping, please what else can they do/ suggest.

Reply to Pepper
Posted by: Nini | 2012/11/14


Kelly I am shocked at your comments. For one, you can absolutely never understand the magnitude of what it is to raise a child. And it is not something you can explain to someone either, you have to experience it for yourself. Your comments are not only unfair, but they are offensive too.

Whether a child is looking for attention or not is not the point. As a parent it is our job to help our children, regardless of the situation or reasons.

to have this attitude of " just get on with it already"  is awful. I sincerely hope that you are never faced with this kind of situation, because I fear for that person then.

I feel terrible for this mom - to imagine my child doing this same thing (for whatever reasons) would break me.

@ Exhausted mother - I am no expert so I cannot offer any decent advice. But what the others are saying makes sense - perhaps you need to consider seeing another professional? Maybe the medication is not agreeing with her. She needs to be assessed by someone else. I really feel for you, especially that there are other children involved as well.

Please ignore comments like that of Kelly''s. She is posting as someone who doesnt really understand the depth of the situation. I think you too need to perhaps seek the help of a professional yourself - mayube to help you develope some coping mechanisms? Just a thought...

Reply to Nini
Posted by: Kelly | 2012/11/14

I would never encourage anyone to take their lives.
If someone came to me for help then I would surely help them as best I could.

I seriously do not believe she wants to kil herself or she would have done it by now. All she''s looking for is attention and she''s getting it but this is not going to help here. She has to realise that there are other ways to deal with her problems. She''s perfectly capable of stopping what she is doing but why should she stop if everyone is playing in her hand?

Stop making this an issue and it will fade with time.

Reply to Kelly
Posted by: Anon | 2012/11/14

Kelly - What a horrible comment. You should NEVER encourage someone to commit suicide if they come to you with even the smallest suggestion that they are considering it. You can''t know with certianty whether someone is simply looking for attention, I wonder what you would do if you had actually egged someone on to end their own life and they ended up doing just that because they made a last ditch effort to ask for someone to HELP them and got told to ''get it over with and stop making it my problem''. Just terrible. I hope exhausted mother ignores your post completely, it''s not helpful and beyond ignorant in so many ways.

Exhausted, are the meds your daughter are on now being prescribed by a psychiatrist? If not, please have her properly assessed by one. Have you discussed with this doc that her meds are not helping? A good psychiatrist should be constantly checking up and making sure that things are actually going beter, if not it''s time to go looking for a new doc who will do a beter job. Same should be said of the psychologist visits, if it''s not helping after 8months it might be time to start looking into finding someone else. Not all doctors have the exact same training, experience or knoweldge, there might be someone out there who is beter suited to help your daughter.

As someone who used to self-harm from age 12 up to 17 I want to say that ultimately..she will have to make the choice that she wants to stop, no amount of begging or pleading with her is going to help until she is willing. If she is genuinely depressed and struggling emotionally now, she may just really not be in a mindset where stopping it is possible for her. Please keep on supporting her and giving her access to the help she needs to get there.

I never went to my parents with this problem. I was to ashamed and didn''t want to saddle them with such an issue, if your daughter came to you with this on her own do feel proud of her for being brave enough to ask for help.

Reply to Anon
Posted by: Leila | 2012/11/14

Have you tried chatting to her when she is in a nice mood? Perhaps only then you can talk some sense into her when she''s calm. Use a kind, loving approach when she is in a good mood. As Kelly have said most teenagers are like that, or at least lots of them, but it differs from child to child, your values will eventually seep into her sooner or later. Have you asked her directly why she cuts herself?

Reply to Leila
Posted by: Maria | 2012/11/14

Kelly, you have no idea what you''re talking about and it''s certainly not a lol matter.

Exhausted mother, have you gone back to the prescribing doctor? People react differently to anti-depressant medication and your daughter may need to try a different one. I also think that''s it''s very important to set boundaries for her. If you set boundaries she will feel safer, even though she may say it makes her feel trapped, as it will show that you are still in control and haven''t given up on her. I don''t believe it is ever appropriate to just accept any and all behaviour. You may understand the reason for it and empathise, but she must still carry the consequences.

Reply to Maria
Posted by: Kelly | 2012/11/14

Hi R. sorry for commenting on issues I have no understanding of but that was just my point of view. I def. wasnt saying she should take any of my advise lol

I just hate seeing parents being minipulated by attention seeking kids. You are right, I havnt the slightest clue why anyone would cut themselves but hey if you want to cut yourself then cut yourself in your own space and keep it to yourself. If you want help or have a problem, ask for it or speak to someone.

I also think parents give their teens way too little credit.

Reply to Kelly
Posted by: R | 2012/11/14

Kelly, you have no understanidng of a mother''s love for her children. You will never know unless you have your own.
As much as we do our best for our chidlren, there are many external influences. Just so you know, raising kids is not a walk in the park, for both parents and the children, but it can be a wonderful expereince. But as you say, if you''re not up for something like that, then don''t have any and stop commenting on issues you have no understanding of.
This is a serious concern and can get worse if not treated correctly.
As much as we adults are faced with daily challenges, most of us are equipped mentally and otherwise to deal with it all, even chidlren and teens have their own challenges and they need proper help so they can have right tools to help them in adulthood.
I am sure CS will give the best advice as usual.

Reply to R
Posted by: Kelly | 2012/11/14

Gosh everyday parents stories about their kids make me not want to have any. Seriously if this was me, my mom would give me a choice. Snip a vein and get over with it already! If you want to die then kill yourself and dont put the rest of us in your misery and actually, I think I would feel the same, not because thats my moms attitude but I guess she''s just looking for attention.

My problem is that her sibling and you guys are suffering because of it. Maybe just ignore her and she would stop?
I think parents pay too much attention to these attention seeking teens which eggs them on in continuing their behaviour and even going to the edge to keep that attention on them.

Ignore her and pay more attention to the other kids you guys are neglecting right now. She will come around sooner than later. Most teens are depressed and moody, I think thats just the way they built these days lol
I think parent just need to know when not to give a hoot.

Reply to Kelly

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