Hudson Valley Parent

HVP - January 2014

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Kids and cutting: releaving anguish S elf-harming schoolers. This deliberate behavior by one's destruction or alteration child is usually a of one's body, is what frightening and confusing Marilee Strong, author area of concern for parof A Bright Red Scream, calls the current adolesents. This behavior can cent addiction. range from the usually Some adolescent cutbenign head-banging enters say that when they countered in infancy, to are overwhelmed with the attention-getting emotional distress, cutinjuries of middle childting temporally relieves hood, to the severe and Child their anguish. The use of even life-threatening Behavior physical pain to obscure forms of self-mutilation the deeper more unbearfound in adolescence. able psychic pain seems to be a This column will shed some light on an increasing problem in adoles- common pattern. For some, it is like a shot of cence: "cutting." adrenaline taking them out of their All the concomitant changes of emptiness and making them feel adolescence create an environmenalive. Frequently, the feelings protal perfect storm for such problems duced by cutting take on addictive as substance abuse, peer-related qualities and become habit forming. aggression, eating and mood Many adolescents who begin disorders. These problems have some direct cutting report that they need to hurt themselves more severely and or indirect aspect of self-abusive or frequently to feel the same mood self-destructive behavior. A direct altering effect. form of adolescent self-destructive Because they haven't learned or behavior, self-mutilation or "cutmastered adaptive mature coping ting" appears to be the most prevaskills, cutting is often used as a lent form of non-suicidal, self-injumechanism to regulate emotions rious behavior. and cope with difficult issues. Before she died, Princess Diana The most frequently cited reademonstrated the scope of this dissons that adolescents say they cut order when she publicly admitted are to stop bad feelings, to feel that she cut herself during her unsomething and reduce the numbhappy marriage. Johnny Depp also ness even if it is painful. For some revealed that his arms bear scars kids it can be a need for attention from self-inflicted wounds. or a cry for help. Others report Dr. Armando Farazzo, a prothe act of cutting makes them feel fessor of psychiatry and author of Bodies Under Siege, estimates that in control, if only for those brief possibly 2 million or more Amerimoments. cans, mostly adolescents, engage in Like every other disorder or issue this behavior. endemic to adolescence, contribBecause kids are growing up uting factors leading to cutting faster today, the trend has even appear to come from many sources established itself among middle beyond the interpersonal and intra- Before she died, Princess Diana publicly admitted that she cut herself during her unhappy marriage. PAUL SCHWARTZ 8 Hudson Valley Parent n December 2013 personal. Some trends in music and media glorify violent and self-injurious behavior. There are also websites and other Internet sources that are dedicated to self-injurious behavior and glorify cutting as a very cool fad. Some theorists postulate that self-injury is an extension of the popularity of piercings and body art. There is no clearly identified reason for adolescent cutting. For both parents of adolescents and professionals who work with adolescents daily, it is important to detect this behavior early before it escalates, despite that fact that the adolescent might attempt to keep it concealed. The most important goal of intervention for this problem is to help the child identify the events or thoughts which precipitate the impulse to engage in cutting, be it stress or unpleasant events in their lives. Once they can identify the impulses to self-mutilate, they can use newly-learned alternatives and more adaptive mechanisms to cope. Cutting for many kids can be a benign transitory rite of passage to fit into their peer group, or as a means to share "drama." Whatever the reason, it is not something to ignore. Paul Schwartz, PhD., is a professor of psychology and education at Mount Saint Mary College.

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