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How to Recognize and Manage Safety Concerns with Teens

As a parent, it can be scary to hear that your teen is having thoughts to harm themselves. Their whole life you have done what you can to keep them safe and then suddenly, you may feel their safety is out of your control. It is important to be able to recognize some common warning signs in teens who are engaged in self-harm behaviors and to be able to provide support to your teen through this difficult time. Research indicates that people often use self-harm as a means to cope with their emotional pain that they don’t know how to deal with in a healthier way. Some common types of self-harm include cutting/scratching, burning/excessive rubbing, and hitting/punching walls. If you find out that your teen is having urges to harm themselves, yelling, grounding, and arguing are not going to make that urge for them go away. If anything, it may increase their urge, as they feel unsupported at home. Instead, focus on their feelings and let them know that you are available for emotional support. Try and be non-judgmental in your approach and take their words and actions seriously.

Having a sense of your teenager’s typical behavior can help you identify when there is a change or shift in their routines. There are also several warning signs that they may be struggling with depression and/or self-injury including:

  • Wearing long sleeves or pants in warmer weather to hide injuries
  • Increasingly withdrawn, sad, or irritable
  • Sleep and/or appetite changes
  • Loss of interest in activities
  • Quitting extracurricular activities
  • Grades are dropping
  • Substance abuse
  • Expressing feelings of worthlessness or lack of hope for the future

Lastly, a parent can help their teen by learning specific tools to assist with managing their depression and anxiety. These may include scheduling positive activities that build on your child’s strengths, increasing physical exercise, engaging in mindfulness techniques, and keeping a communication journal if verbal self-expression is difficult. Please keep in mind these are just a few examples. A mental health therapist can help you and your teen learn and practice healthier coping skills to manage self-harm behaviors. If therapy and coping skills alone do not help to decrease depression, anxiety, and/or self-harm behaviors, your teen may need to see a psychiatrist to help find a medication to help manage their symptoms more effectively.