Cutting and Self Harm In Girls


Are you hearing more and more about girls cutting? Does it seem like everyone is talking about it? Or no one even cares who cuts because it is so common and understood that girls cut? Or worse yet, are you seeing cuts and scratches or bruises on your own daughter? What is this cutting thing and what can you do as a parent of a teen girl?

It’s very difficult to get statistics or accurate numbers on how many kids are cutting. Boys and girls cut. Even adults cut. It is believed to have existed for a very long time, but is becoming much more talked about and most professionals would agree it is more and more common. Teens see it on TV, they read about it on social media, there are even websites on how to do it and how to hide it from parents. Ask any teen girl if they know someone who cuts and the answers is probably, “yeah, of course”.

Cutting is not typically a suicidal gesture. It is sometimes a sign or symptom of a very serious mental health disorder, but it is most often a coping skill; a very dangerous and self destructive coping skill.  Teens who cut are not from any particular social group or even the girls you might think would be cutting. Girls who cut can be overachieving, successful, highly motivated girls. They are stressed, they have a lot of pressure and they need to find a way to cope with difficult feelings. The difficult feelings are a normal part of life and can get very intense during adolescence. When feelings get too intense(and they don’t have adequate coping skills)  girls have found that cutting provides relief.

The biggest hurdle for girls who cut is that cutting does offer teens the relief they are looking for. So when faced with stress they learn to cut to find the relief they are craving. Much like a drug high, they know it will work so they do it more and more often. If cutting is providing the relief a teen craves and it goes undetected or not talked about, a teen will may cut more often and cut for less and less of a reason. It just feels good. So they do it more and more and they are not learning or practicing any other healthy coping skill.

Teens need to learn that cutting will only work in the short term and they will need to develop, practice and rely on healthier coping skills as they grow up and face life. Underlying problems need to be addressed. Does this teen need treatment for anxiety or depression? Is there a family dynamic that causes this teen stress? Is there something going on at school? How can these stressors be resolved or new ways to cope get introduced?

It is very important that if your teen is cutting or you suspect she is cutting; seek help from a mental health provider. A professional can help you as a parent understand cutting so you can offer your teen the support and resources they need. A professional can also help your daughter learn new skills so that she can start using them and find a way to break an unhealthy pattern.

Unhealthy pattern:        overwhelming feelings + cutting = relief

Healthy pattern:

 Overwhelming feelings  +   (reading, drawing, journaling, talking, singing, crying, ???  =  COPING



Girls need time and creativity and support while they discover what the pattern needs to be for them.

The sooner the unhealthy pattern is broken, the more likely girls will be able rely on their healthy patterns as they grow older. And ultimately stop the unhealthy pattern.

Girls need to learn to say “No”.

Girls need to learn how to express feelings that are difficult; mad, sad, guilt, etc.

Girls need to learn to stand up for themselves with friends and family members.

Girls need to accept failure (a poor grade even though they studied diligently, a friendship that ends for no apparent reason, a boyfriend dumps them for someone new, etc) as a part of life.

Girls need to learn to express anger and disappointment verbally.

Girls need to recharge their batteries so they learn self care (shut off social media, taking a break from going out and socializing constantly, reading a book, doing something for themselves just because it is something they enjoy).

Girls need to use journaling, talking and drawing as ways to embrace the hard feelings, feel the feelings and cope with those feelings. Life will bring many hard, difficult feelings and we need to equip our young women to be ready to face and deal with those feelings. Teaching them not to feel, to ignore the tough stuff or pretend they don’t feel the painful feelings is not healthy.








Joy Hartman is a family therapist in Wisconsin who has worked with teenagers and their families for over twenty years. She now has the unique pleasure of raising three teenagers of her own!  Joy helps teens and parents find their own unique strengths and talents to make the complicated journey to adulthood one filled with support, love and little bit of humor!

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