Close this search box.
Close this search box.

Understanding and Addressing Cutting: A Parent’s Guide 


Cutting is a heartbreaking form of self-harm that has been steadily increasing among teens and adolescents. As a parent, it’s crucial to understand the signs, causes, and best approaches to addressing this alarming issue. Evolve specializes in providing comprehensive and compassionate care for teens struggling with a variety of mental health issues, including cutting. This guide is designed to help parents navigate through this complex issue, offering insights, support, and practical advice to better support their teens.

Understanding Cutting in Teens 

What is cutting, and why do teens do it? Cutting is a form of self-injury where a person deliberately harms their own body using a sharp object. In teens, this behavior can be a coping mechanism for dealing with emotional pain, stress, or overwhelming situations. Teens cutting themselves is a serious issue that requires attention, as it is often a sign of underlying mental health conditions.

Recognizing Signs and Symptoms of Cutting in Teenagers 

Signs of cutting in teens may include unexplained cuts or bruises, wearing long sleeves or pants even in hot weather, isolation from friends and family, and emotional instability. Parents should pay close attention to any drastic changes in their teen’s behavior, mood, or appearance.

Hidden Self-Harm: What Parents Should Be Aware Of

Teens may go to great lengths to hide their self-harm. Being aware of this and looking for signs can help in identifying the issue early. Regularly checking in on your teen’s emotional well-being can also provide them with an opportunity to open up.

Common Causes and Triggers of Cutting in Teens

Cutting in teens is a serious issue, but why do teens cut?

There are many different reasons teens cut themselves, including peer pressure, family issues, mental health conditions, and past traumatic experiences. They might be trying to express pain they can’t put into words, distract themselves from emotional anguish, or regain a sense of control. Understanding the underlying causes of teen cutting is essential for providing the right support and intervention.

How Common is Cutting in Teens?

Cutting behavior in teens is a growing concern. In a study published in 2018 containing data on over 60,000 teenagers, researchers revealed that Non-Suicidal Self-Injury (NSSI) is much more common than most people – especially parents of teens – think. Here’s what the researchers found:

17% of adolescents reported instances of NSSI

11% of males said they’d engaged in NSSI

24% of females said they’d engaged in NSSI

In addition, a study published in 2019 on adolescents receiving behavioral health treatment showed the following:

35-80% of teens in inpatient treatment reported NSSI (variation attributed to differing methods and definitions)

87% of teens who engage in NSSI have a psychiatric disorder

Cutting is more common than most people realize, and it can have severe impacts on a teen’s life, including physical harm, increased risk of suicide, and prolonged mental health issues.

Impact of Cutting on Teens and Those Around Them 

Cutting affects not just the teens themselves, but also their family and friends. It can create a strain in relationships, increase stress within the family, and lead to feelings of helplessness among loved ones.

Creating a Supportive Environment for Your Teen 

Many parents ask us: what do I do if my teen is cutting? 

Discovering that your teen is cutting themselves can be incredibly distressing and overwhelming. However, it’s crucial to approach the situation with care, compassion, and a willingness to understand and support them. Here’s a step-by-step guide on how to handle it:

1. Stay Calm:

When you first discover that your teen is cutting, it’s vital to stay calm. Your reaction will set the tone for future conversations, and panicking can make your teen feel more anxious and less likely to open up about their feelings.

2. Express Your Concern:

Let your teen know that you are concerned about them and that their safety is your top priority. Make sure they understand that you are coming from a place of love and care.

3. Listen Non-Judgmentally:

Give them the space to express their feelings without fear of judgment. Avoid making assumptions or offering quick solutions; just listen and validate their emotions.

4. Avoid Punishing or Shaming:

Cutting is often a sign of emotional distress, and punishing or shaming your teen can exacerbate their pain. Focus on providing support rather than assigning blame.

5. Encourage Professional Help:

Cutting is a serious issue that often requires professional help. Ask your teen if they’re willing to speak to a mental health professional who specializes in self-harm or adolescent mental health. Options might include inpatient treatment, therapy, counseling, and medication.

6. Explore Treatment Options Together:

Research treatment options together and involve your teen in the decision-making process. This helps empower them to take an active role in their recovery.

7. Foster Open Communication:

Encourage your teen to talk about their feelings and assure them that they can come to you without fear of judgment. Open communication is key to understanding their experience and providing appropriate support.

8. Be Patient:

Recovery takes time, and it’s important to be patient. Understand that there may be setbacks along the way, but with consistent support and professional help, your teen can overcome self-harming behaviors.

9. Take Care of Yourself:

Supporting a teen who is cutting can be emotionally taxing. Ensure that you are also taking care of your own emotional well-being and seek support if needed.

10. Consider Family Therapy:

Family therapy can be beneficial in addressing communication issues and fostering a supportive home environment.

11. Stay Involved:

Stay involved in your teen’s life and be attentive to their needs. Regular check-ins can help you monitor their progress and provide ongoing support.

12. Promote Healthy Coping Strategies:

Encourage your teen to develop healthy coping strategies for dealing with stress and emotional pain. This could include activities like journaling, art, exercise, or mindfulness.

Remember, you don’t have to navigate this alone; there are professionals and resources available to help both you and your teen through this process. At Evolve, we specialize in the treatment of NSSI and other self-harming behaviors. Reach out to us for additional support, and to see if residential inpatient treatment is right for your teen. 

Finding Communication and Open Dialogue With Your Teen

Maintain an open line of communication with your teen. Let them know that you are there to listen and support them, and encourage them to express their feelings and thoughts. If you’re having trouble getting through to them, we have more resources for parents.

Seeking Professional Help for Teenage Cutting 

If you suspect your teen is cutting, don’t hesitate to seek professional help. There are many benefits of sending your teen to residential treatment, and reatment for cutting is available. Evolve offers inpatient treatment for teen cutting, providing a safe and supportive environment for your child’s recovery.

Get the Support You and Your Teen Need 

Evolve Treatment Centers are here to help. Our expert team is dedicated to providing comprehensive treatment for teens struggling with cutting and other mental health issues. Contact us today to learn more about our programs and how we can support your teen on their journey to recovery.

Frequently Asked Questions About Cutting in Teens  

What are the warning signs that a teenager may be cutting?

Unexplained cuts or bruises, frequent isolation, emotional instability, and changes in behavior or appearance.

What is Non-Suicidal Self Injury?

Non-Suicidal Self-Injury in teens refers to the intentional act of causing physical harm to oneself without the intent to end one’s life. People engage in NSSI for various reasons, including to cope with emotional pain, express feelings that are hard to put into words, distract from life problems, or regain a sense of control. Cutting is a common form of NSSI, but it can also include other behaviors like burning, hitting, or scratching oneself.

It’s important to note that while NSSI is not a suicide attempt, it is often associated with emotional distress and mental health conditions, such as depression, anxiety, and borderline personality disorder. Individuals who engage in NSSI are also at a higher risk of attempting suicide in the future, which makes it crucial to seek professional help.

Is cutting a form of self-harm, and how is it related to mental health?

Yes, cutting is a form of self-harm and is often linked to underlying mental health issues such as depression, anxiety, and trauma.

Can cutting be a way for teens to cope with emotional pain?

Yes, some teens may use cutting as a way to cope with emotional pain, but it is an unhealthy coping mechanism.

What is the connection between cutting and underlying mental health issues?

Cutting is often a symptom of underlying mental health issues, serving as a physical manifestation of internal emotional turmoil.

Are there risk factors that make some teens more susceptible to cutting?

Factors such as past trauma, family issues, peer pressure, and pre-existing mental health conditions can increase the risk.

What role does peer pressure play in teen cutting?

Peer pressure can contribute to cutting, especially if teens are exposed to others who engage in self-harm.

Can self-harm escalate to more dangerous behaviors?

Yes, if left untreated, self-harm behaviors like cutting can escalate and increase the risk of more serious harm or suicide.

Should I seek professional help if my teenager is cutting?

Yes, seeking professional help is crucial when dealing with cutting, as it is often linked to serious mental health issues.

How can I help my teen build healthier coping mechanisms?

Encourage open communication, provide a supportive environment, and seek professional help to teach healthier coping strategies.

What is the long-term outlook for teenagers who self-harm?

With proper treatment and support, many teens can overcome self-harm and go on to lead healthy, fulfilling lives.

Is it common for teens to hide their self-harming behaviors?

Yes, many teens hide their cutting behavior, making it important for parents to be vigilant and supportive.

Can cutting lead to infections or other physical complications?

Yes, cutting can lead to physical complications including infections, scarring, and in severe cases, life-threatening injuries.

Are there support groups or resources available for parents of teens who self-harm?

Yes, there are various support groups and resources available to help parents understand and support their teens.

How can I encourage my teenager to talk about their feelings and experiences?

Create a safe, non-judgmental space for them to express themselves, and reassure them that you are there to listen and support.

Is it possible for a teenager to recover from self-harm completely?

Yes, with the right support and treatment, teenagers can recover from self-harm and learn healthier coping mechanisms.

What should I do if my teenager refuses to seek help for cutting?

Encourage them to talk about their feelings, provide support, and consult a mental health professional for guidance.

How can I address the stigma associated with self-harm in society?

Educate yourself and others, speak openly about mental health, and advocate for the normalization of seeking help.

Can medication be a part of the treatment plan for teens who self-harm?

In some cases, medication may be recommended as part of a comprehensive treatment plan.

What can I do to prevent my younger children from learning about cutting from their older siblings?

Monitor interactions, educate on healthy coping mechanisms, and create an open dialogue about mental health in your household.

Related Posts

Enjoying these insights?

Subscribe here, so you never miss an update!

Connect with Other Parents

We know parents need support, too. That is exactly why we offer a chance for parents of teens to connect virtually in a safe space! Each week parents meet to share resources and talk through the struggles of balancing child care, work responsibilities, and self-care.

More questions? We’re here for you.