Are you worried your child is self-harming? Even those who seem fine could be at risk due to cyberbullying and the pressures of modern childhood.
To find out why children self-harm, how to spot it and what to do about it, we’ve put together this guide.
Internet Matters, a not-for-profit organisation dedicated to keep children safe online, has lots of information to help parents understand the dangers facing children in the internet age. Visit Internet Matters.
Why self-harm occurs
Self-harm can happen for a variety of reasons. As well as being a symptom of borderline personality disorder, it’s also been linked to depression, anxiety, substance abuse, eating disorders, post-traumatic stress disorder, schizophrenia and personality disorders.
It can be triggered by many things – including disputes with family, abuse, stress from exams, or problems related to sexuality, race or religion.
Even if your child doesn’t suffer from any of the above, they’re still at risk from self-harm. This is because bullying – both in person and online – can bring about feelings of depression, anxiety and other conditions. That’s why it’s important to look out for the signs.
Signs of self-harm
The most obvious signs of self-harm are marks on the skin where the self-harmer has abused themselves. These most often take the form of small cuts or bruises, usually on the forearms. But other methods have different signs – someone self-harming with alcohol abuse, for example, will have different symptoms to someone pulling their own hair.
Emotional signs include depression, low motivation, tearfulness and weight fluctuation.
Self-harmers will go to lengths to hide what they are doing, or make excuses.
What you can do to help
Talk to your child
Encourage an open dialogue with your child, and talk to them calmly, making sure not to blame them. Spell out the risks, and try to find out what’s causing them to self-harm. Avoid giving them ultimatums or taking control – many children who self harm feel it is a way of gaining control over their lives.
Contact your local GP and your school
If you suspect your child is self-harming, it’s vital you tell the authorities. Your GP will be able to help heal the physical and mental wounds, while the school may help find the source of why the child is self-harming, and hence prevent it happening again.
Monitor your child’s social media use
Make sure they’re not using it too much, and that when they do use it, they’re not being bullied.
Use BT’s Parental Controls
These can prevent your child from visiting websites unsuitable for their age group, including those include content on ‘Hate and Self Harm’. Find out more about BT Parental Controls.
Seek advice online
What is digital self-harm?
Self-harm doesn’t have to happen physically. It can happen online too as sufferers criticise themselves on social media and invite others to join in the criticism. This is known as digital self-harm.
According to psychologist and Internet Matters ambassador Dr Linda Papadopolous, sufferers project a negative view of themselves online. “Rather than seeking out a blade they turn to the online world to invite others to cut through them emotionally,” she says.
Digital self-harm is such a new phenomenon that there’s no real consensus on exactly what it involves. But psychologists have identified some common themes.
First is an acknowledgement of pain. It’s important for the sufferer for others to see their pain, as it makes it feel real and so worthy of attention. This is also the case with physical self-harm.
Digital self-harmers also want to assert control. It’s a perfectly natural impulse. It helps them make sense of the negative feelings they hold about themselves. The vitriol they invite from the online world could be an attempt to make sense of the painful emotions they’re feeling.
They also want to be heard. Even if the people listening to them are being negative and cruel in return, just the fact they are being heard at all is validation for the self-harmer. And so the cycle of negativity continues.
Help sooner rather than later
If you suspect your child is self-harming or is at risk of doing so either physically or digitally, the sooner you talk to them – and if necessary, seek help – the better.
By helping your child open up and not judging them for experiencing what are completely natural emotions, you can help them deal with whatever they’re going through.