March 13, 2013

A Growing Trend: Kids & Self-Harm.

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Some kids are taking part in a ritual they call ‘cutting’ and the trend is growing.

And if you don’t like ugly and depressing stories, than I suggest you stop reading now.

These are young kids, some only six and seven, but mostly they are teens who mutilate themselves because they’re depressed, suicidal, feel ‘out of control’ and angry about their lives.

“When I cut myself and start to see some blood, I feel immediate relief,” says one anonymous 14 year-old girl. “All of the pain inside me disappears, at least for the moment.”

Some kids say cutting helps them control the personal pain they can’t possibly describe, and that they would “sooner hurt themselves” before they would ever express their anguish to an adult, friend or stranger.

And in the words of an 11 year-old boy,

“When I hurt myself, I don’t feel like hurting anyone else. I’d rather do really bad stuff to myself than take out my anger on other kids.”

You got that?

Not all kids are evil little monsters who are bound for juvenile hall. A lot of them are sweet kids, decent kids, and suffering kids—and they need our help.

It’s so much easier to throw away the keys for a whole generation, and to blame them for all the ills of society; but the problems these kids suffer don’t happen in a vacuum.

There are parents, teachers, counselors, friends, neighbors and people in communities all over this country who know these kids; and not enough is being done about it– if at all.

A girl I’ll call Mandy said “she just wants to die” and that carving into her own skin puts off the daily desire to kill herself.

Mandy has been sexually molested but too scared to tell anyone; she has been burned with cigarettes by a relative; and she’s bullied at school because she’s painfully shy.

I’m just getting started.

A boy I’ll call Chris is gay and faces extreme bullying each day by classmates and even by teachers who in his words “just sit, watch and cheer the bullying on.” He said,

“I don’t know why people think I am such a freak. I can’t wait to get home and feel numb. At least then my pain belongs to me.”

The youngest child I know of is a seven year-old girl with ADHD and a weight problem. She said her family calls her stupid and fat, and that maybe if she keeps jabbing her legs with scissors, they might take notice and stop.

What these kids use to harm themselves is any assortment of sharp objects that can be found around the house.

You name it—from fire pokers to knives, razor blades to safety pins… and even jagged tin cans and tweezers in order to make bloodied cuts that can scar them for life.

This can become an addictive behavior, say experts, and a dangerous, terminal addiction that can impact every part of a child’s life as they are still growing physically, mentally and emotionally.

It’s a terrifying trend that you barely hear about.

But if you listen to any kids or ask them—they’ll know about it; they might even know someone who is doing it… and maybe it’s even them.

There’s been a lot of talk recently about the apathy among young people when it comes to voting, politics, their future, and their goals, my words included.

But adults simply have no clue about how bad things are with some of our kids, are too disturbed to deal with the uncomfortable reality, or simply don’t care.

How are kids learning about self mutilation and how to do it best?

Their so-called friends or social groups for one. And for another—they’re learning it right on YouTube and other sites with ‘How-To’ videos about how to destroy their young bodies without getting caught.

And isn’t that what it’s all about as a kid?

You know, doing bad things without getting caught?

When I was young so many years ago, the bad teenagers smoked pot, did some dangerous drugs, drank alcohol, drove drunk, got pregnant and dropped out of school.

Growing up in a mellow neighborhood, I was fortunate that I hung out with the good kids and never actually knew anyone who did heroin, beat anyone up, or had a baby out of wedlock.

But I’m one of the lucky ones.

Today, most news about adolescents focuses on how delinquent kids are; how they bully each other over the Internet with some sort of sociopathic element implied; the deplorable high school drop-out rate, teen sex, and of course, the never-ending general attack “that kids are much worse than the generation before.”

No wonder so many kids are messed up.

And as far as the statistics?* They are both staggering and sobering.

  • >> One in 12 teenagers engage in some sort of self-harm
  • >> Ten percent of girls admit to hurting themselves in some way, compared to six percent of boys
  • >> Cutting and burning are the most common forms of injury
  • >> Of those who self-harm, a tenth continue this behavior through young adulthood

* According to a long-term research study by psychiatrists from King’s College, London—with U.S. statistics reported to closely match.

“The numbers we’re talking about here are huge,” says Professor Keith Hawton, director of the Centre for Suicide Research at Oxford University.

Hawton also points to studies that show that self-harmers who come to the hospital during their teenage and young adult years are “100 times more likely than the general population to commit suicide.”

As for suicide, it is the third leading cause of death for 15-24 year olds and the sixth leading cause of death for five-15 year olds. 14 percent of high school students are reported to have thought about attempting suicide.**

** According to the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry.

So what do we do?

As I might expect, many of you have stopped reading by now as the subject is utterly depressing, frightening, gruesome and tragic at best.

But for those who are still here, a good start would be to pay attention to what your kids are doing, what their friends are doing, and what kids you don’t even know might be doing.

What they are saying and not saying is also important.

When was the last time you took the time to ask a young teenager about how they really felt… waited around to hear their answer… and were willing to accept an answer you weren’t expecting or didn’t want to hear?

It’s not that kids today are worse, more troubled or even somehow more psychotic than a generation before.

What has happened, say many child psychologists, is that there is less open communication than ever between parents and their kids—everyone is more plugged into the new techno-universe culture that we have accepted as “somehow okay.”

And it’s hurting us all.

As a teenager, I remember listening to Led Zeppelin, Aerosmith and The Rolling Stones as my favorite Bad-Boy bands who mainly sang about sex, drugs and rock and roll.

But a lot of new music that has won the hearts of young kids, frankly… makes the bands of yesteryear seem like The Osmonds and The Partridge family by comparison.

Popular lyrics contain the romanticism of self-harming, chronic depression, self-loathing, hatred for life, apathy for their future, anything mainstream, and a flirtation if not an outright call for ending one’s life.

As I watched a segment on a major news network once again profile teenagers as “Lord of the Flies” maggots who don’t care about anything, and only cause trouble for elitist adults, I turned my television off and wrote this instead.

Immediate plans include reaching out to local public schools to initiate support groups for kids who are suffering—not just from cutting themselves, but also from cutting classes with no chance for an education; cutting off ties to everyone they love; cutting off all hopes for their future; and cutting themselves off from a life via successful suicides.

But most importantly, I want to help them heal, mend and sew their cut and slashed-driven lives back together in some way—somehow—and for at least some kids, as a start.

A girl I’ll call Jillian who is 10 said it best,

“No one listens to me, not ever. Whenever I talk about anything I’m upset about, people ignore me and just walk away. I don’t care if I live or die, and maybe . . .

I should just die. Maybe then, people will pay attention.”

Are y’all paying attention now?

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Ed: Lynn Hasselberger

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