Cutting Class

Written By: Rachel Strong
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Depression is a very real problem for today's youth. When your spirit doesn't feel good, a lot of teens do what they can to make their body feel the same.

Some students pick fights. Some students overeat. Some students take drugs or alcohol or get prescription drugs. A frightening trend today is cutting.

The practice of cutting is becoming more and more prevalent in high schools around the country. The vast majority-over 95%-are girls.

Most girls turn to cutting to cope with stress. When in a stressful situation-or dealing with some form of abuse-the releasing of endorphins resulting from the cutting of the body can be therapeutic and addictive.

Most students will confide in friends, teachers, youth leaders or guidance counselors before they speak with their parents about their problem. It is quite possible you will learn about your daughter's cutting from someone other than her, including another adult in her life. Many states require teachers, counselors, and church workers to report child abuse and/or self-destructive behavior to the authorities, who will then come to you.

But it is always best to be on the lookout for the warning signs.

Signs your son or daughter may be self-mutilating are:

Unusual scars or marks on arms and legs

Excusing herself to her room or the bathroom during uncomfortable situations

Low self-confidence and being easily frustrated

Depression or other mental illnesses

A fascination with knives and other sharp objects

An fascination with blood

Nail and/or cuticle biting

Keeping sharp objects (razors, scissors, safety pins, etc.) in her backpack or purse

Chronic anger or anxiety

Lacking coping skills.

If you suspect your daughter or one of her friends may be hurting herself, there are many things you can do.

First, let her know that you accept her, but not her behavior. Since cutting can be a response to low self-esteem, it is crucial that she knows you love her and you will not leave her if she messes up.

Second, make sure she commits to stop cutting. Encourage her to find a trusted adult (preferably not a parent or family member) to hold her accountable to keep her commitment.

Third, be aware of her triggers. Triggers can include the music she listens to, certain colors, movies, sounds, and even her hormones around the time of her menstrual cycle. Keep a vigilant eye on your child during these times, and try to avoid the triggers if you can.

Fourth, set emotional limits. Your student can and may use her cutting to manipulate the adults in her life. Both parents, and any other trusted adults, need to show a united front, but your student needs to know that she cannot use her self-mutilation to manipulate the adults trying to help.

There are also a few things you should never do.

Never give ultimatums, this will just cause her to close off and hide her cutting from you again.

Never punish her for cutting-this will just reinforce the thoughts that led to the cutting in the first place. Likewise, never display anger with her for "falling off the wagon."

Never promise her that you will not send her to counseling, put her on medication, or commit her to a hospital. Sometimes, these actions will be necessary and she may feel betrayed or lied to if you need to resort to outside help.

Finally, never EVER think of cutting as just a phase or a cry for attention. While cutting in and of itself is not a suicide attempt, over half of all self-mutilators go on to attempt suicide.

One of the best ways to know what is going on in your child's life is to check out her online page, such as her MySpace profile. Many students post information online they would never dream of telling their parents. Also, if you suspect one of your child's friends is cutting, speak to your daughter as well as her friend, and also tell the friend's parents.

If you know what is going on in your daughter's life, you will be better able to help your child through the difficult time that is high school.

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