Teens and Self Injury

CuttingThough many parents don’t want to believe their teen would self injure themselves, many more are realizing it is their teenager that is actually cutting.  Why?

  • Peer pressure?
  • Depression?
  • Drug use?
  • Anxiety?
  • Stress?

According to experts, one of the most common reasons teens self injure is because the injury is in some way a “release” from emotional anxiety. The pain of the injury provides a distraction from the emotional pain the teen is feeling, and acts almost as a drug to them. It can also help the injured feel ‘human’ again, by putting them in touch with a common human experience: pain.

If you discover that your teen is cutting, there are several important keys to remember. First and foremost, approach your teen with a level head. Address your teen calmly and supportively. Do not react angrily or upset your teen in any way.

Experts warn that overreacting or reacting loudly or angrily can often push your teen further away and increase the cutting or self injuring behaviors. Your teen needs to know you are open to hearing what she has to say and getting her the help she needs. You should also tell your teen that you are not upset with her, love her, and know she is in a lot of pain.

Counseling for a teen that cuts is crucial. It can often take many years of therapy before your teen is willing or able to uncover the reasons she/he cuts herself.

If you feel your teen is in need of residential therapy please visit www.helpyourteens.com.

Teen Help: Struggling Teens and Searching for Help

Especially during the holiday season, this can be one of the hardest decisions a parent can make.  The Internet can make it twice as confusing!

Sending a child to a residential program/school is a major decision. It is not one to be taken lightly or to be decided on overnight.

Usually a teen’s behavior has been slowly escalating and a parent knows that deep down things are not getting better.  As much as you hope and pray that things will change, this is only typical teen behavior, sometimes it just isn’t.

With drug use and substance abuse rising – more dangerous and deadly ingredients being used, such as spice and inhalants, parents have reason to be concerned.  It isn’t your marijuana of generations prior – it is so much worse and in many cases – addictive and deadly.

If you have reached your wit’s end and now surfing the Internet for help, remember, anyone can build a website.  Anyone can put up nice pictures and create great content.  You need to do your due diligence.

Years ago I struggled with my own teenager.  I was at my wit’s end.  I didn’t realize what a big business this “teen help industry” was.  Yes, my child needed help, but what we received was anything but that.  My story is a cautionary tale – not one to scare you into not using a program, however on the contrary, you have to get your child help, but you have to do your research in getting them the right help.

Here are some quick tips:

  • Your child is not for sale, try to avoid those marketing arms selling you a list of programs that are not in the best interest of your child’s individual needs.
  • Always speak with an owner or director – Someone that has a vested in your teen’s recovery.  Their reputation is on the line.
  • Wilderness and other short term programs are usually nothing more than a band-aid that will fall off as quickly as the program lasted.  They are expensive camping trips and in most cases the Wilderness program will tell you at about 4 weeks that your teen will need to continue on to a longer term program.  What? Yes, now you go back to the research board and worse than that, your teen will be deflated when he finds out he/she isn’t coming home in 6-9 weeks as they were lead to believe – and they will be starting all over again with a new therapist – new schedule – and new setting.  Don’t get caught up in this “shuffle.”  Start and finish with the same school/program.
  • The average stay should be about 6-9-12 months, depending on your teen.  Anything less is probably non-effective.  Anything more, you may be creating abandonment issues in my opinion.
  • Do you really need an Educational Consultant?  Absolutely not.  You are the parent and no one knows your teen better than you do – with a few tips, you will be able to make some sound choices.

For more helpful hint and tips, please contact www.HelpYourTeens.com for a free consultation. After the ordeal I went through, I created this advocacy organization to help educate parents on finding safe and quality programs.

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Facebook Statuses: What is your teen saying – Should you be concerned?

Is your teen acting withdrawn?  Secretive? Shutting down their screen as you walk by? Losing weight? Gaining weight? Changing friends?  Recent boyfriend break-up? Depressed?

Especially at the holidays, teenagers can feel blue just like some adults.  Know how your kids are feeling.

What are their Facebook status saying?

“Forgive me.”
“When will this end?”
“I hate my life”

RED FLAGS and parenting.  Know them!

Facebook is the social hangout of the internet for all ages, but it is particularly true of teenagers.
Teenagers often are much more open about what they are thinking and feeling in this cyber environment than most older adults. Since teens experience many emotional ups and downs, it can be easy to dismiss most of their dramatic postings as nothing more than normal teenage drama. However, there have been too many instances in recent years when parents had wished they’d paid more attention to what their teenager had posted as their ‘current status’.
Here a few status updates parents should watch for and investigate further.

  1. I can’t take it anymore. Although, this could mean anything from homework overload to sibling irritation, it could also be a cry for help from a teen who is truly overwhelmed with life in someway. It is not a status update that you want to ignore. Parents should take the initiative and find out what prompted this entry.
  2. Text me. This may seem innocent enough, but, for some parents, it may be a signal that their teen may be trying to keep something hidden that needs to be in the open. Privacy and protection are always a fine line to walk with teenagers. Parents, however, should never hesitate to ask about the reason behind such a post.
  3. Really loaded right now. If your teen is high enough to make this post on Facebook without thinking about the fact that their parents might see it, there is drug or alcohol abuse going on. Ignoring these types of problems does not make them go away.
  4. Depressing song lyrics. Song lyrics are popular posts from teens. It may be what they’re listening to at the moment or a song that is running through their head. If the lyrics of the songs are continually negative and depressing, this could be an indication of the teen’s emotional state, as well.
  5. No one understands. This is a common feeling during teenage years, but it is also one that can develop into a true depressive state. Seeing this posted as your teen’s Facebook status should raise enough concern for their parents to pursue the reasons behind the posting.
  6. I hate my life. Again, this is not an unusual statement to come from a teen at different points in their adolescence, however, posting it as your Facebook status is similar to shouting it from the rooftops. It is always better to treat these statements seriously, than to ignore them as a simple impulse statement.
  7. Forgive me, Mom & Dad. This kind of post would be one that should require immediate connection with your child. If it doesn’t mention what they are asking forgiveness for, it may be a subtle plea for you to stop them from doing something terrible. Take this very seriously!
  8. You’re all going to die. In light of the terrible things we have seen happen in our schools, a teen who posts something like this should not be ignored. “I was just joking” is not an acceptable explanation for this type of post. A teen who posts such a statement publicly should expect inquiry from, not only his parents, but school and law enforcement as well.
  9. I wish I were dead. Never assume these statements are words only. Any type of suicidal expression like this should be taken very seriously. Many parents have had the misfortune of finding out that even a verbal statement can be an indication of suicidal thoughts. A public posting of that thought should be taken just as seriously.
  10. I hate my school. The key word in this status update is ‘my’. It doesn’t say ‘I hate school’, it is more specific than that. It would behoove the parents to find out what it is, about the child’s school, that made them post this statement, and what can be done to improve the situation.

Facebook status updates reach a lot of people, a parent of a teenager should definitely be one of those people who pays attention to what their child is broadcasting into cyberspace. It may be their way of trying to find out if anyone is really paying attention, and if anyone really cares.

Source: My ISP Finder

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Teen Eating Disorders: Know the Warning Signs

Body image and teens. Learn more.

Initiating a conversation about someone else is a neutral, non-threatening way to broach the topic. If you hear that someone in your child’s school has an eating disorder, that is an appropriate time to bring it up. Your child already knows or will hear rumors soon, and may have questions that you can answer. If you don’t have any examples closer to home, there are frequently stories of celebrities in and out of treatment.

One that your child may already know is Demi Lovato, a teen actress and singer who has been in numerous Disney movies and TV shows. She entered a residential treatment center last fall, and in April 2011 she gave a few interviews where she discussed some pretty heavy topics.

She discussed being bullied as a child, and her subsequent depression, eating disorder, and self-mutilation, as well as her recent diagnosis with bipolar disorder, her recovery, and helping other girls in her new role with Seventeen Magazine. Here are a few sources for you that condense her story: an article that summarizes Demi’s disorders and treatment or this video where Demi discusses being bullied, her eating disorder, cutting, and her treatment.

Chances are, your children already know her story, and have heard about people at school doing things like skipping meals, purging, or cutting. Demi’s life may not have been that of a typical child, but we can use her story to check in and connect with our children.

Why should I be concerned if my kid is on a diet? I’m on a diet too.

You as an adult are more likely to have your diet in the proper perspective. Kids and teens, especially perfectionist, driven, rule-bound ones, can take things too far until it is a compulsion they cannot control. In her interview, Demi said that by fifteen years old, she was skipping most meals, and when she failed to lose weight, started throwing up. Take stock of your own eating habits – ditch the rules about food, weighing portions, or calorie counting, and instead focus on eating mostly nutritious food, only when you are hungry. Also, never cut yourself down for your weight or what you eat, or be critical about others’ weight or appearance. Before you say it, think how it would sound coming out of a child’s mouth.

My son has been losing weight, but it’s for sports, so that doesn’t count, right?

It’s true that girls and women are more likely to develop eating disorders, but out of eleven million suffering from ED today, one million of those are male. Check over the list of symptoms below, and pay attention to your instinct as a parent. If anything about the way your son is losing weight concerns you, talk to him and talk to a professional. Better safe than sorry!

What’s the difference between an eating disorder and a diet? Or, what are the symptoms of an eating disorder?

It’s possible to diet without developing an eating disorder, but most medical professionals agree that children should not be on any diets.

Where the two differ, however, is the ability or inability to think logically and rationally. So when a normal dieter looks in the mirror and sees progress, anorexics have a distorted view and cannot see themselves as anything but fat. Their irrational compulsion justifies extreme measures, like purging, skipping entire meals, and laxatives. A medical professional or therapist can help with an accurate assessment and diagnosis, but let your instinct as a parent serve as an early warning system. You are often the first to know when something is up with your child, even if you aren’t sure what it is.

Be watchful for these symptoms:

  • Different eating habits, diet plans, skipping meals, snacks, meat, or desserts, avoiding eating with others
  • Distorted, negative self-image
  • Eating alone, in secret, or at night
  • Avoiding social situations that involve food
  • Change in moods including depression, anxiety, withdrawal, irritability, obsessive behavior in other activities
  • Preoccupation with dieting, calories, food, cooking, diet books, what others are eating
  • Visiting websites that promote unhealthy weight loss
  • Any weight loss, weight gain, or failure to make expected gain in height
  • Compulsive exercising
  • Taking laxatives, diet pills, or steroids
  • Making excuses to get out of eating
  • Going to the bathroom right after meals, running water to hide vomiting sounds
  • Wearing loose clothing to hide weight loss or body shape
  • Hoarding high-calorie food, or evidence of binge eating (food wrappers, quantities of food disappearing)

If I suspect they are hiding something, should I snoop in their things?

If you are truly concerned for their safety, you are justified in violating their privacy. This is a last resort, however, and there are ways to avoid it unnecessarily. Are you sure you can’t draw it out in a conversation? If you are just curious, or feeling out of touch, you should instead be working on building your relationship. If you are paying for your son or daughter’s cell phone, internet service, and car payments, you can establish upfront rules about their use that don’t leave them feeling violated.

Be judicious with what you find. If it’s serious, such as laxatives, weapons, drugs, evidence that they are being bullied or stalked by a predator, act on it immediately. They will of course be furious and hurt, but the danger to them is substantial. If you find something upsetting but not dangerous, such as communication complaining about you, first take a deep breath, try to remember what it was like to be a teenager, and let go of your anger. Then work on strengthening your connection.

I’ve seen signs, and now I’m worried. How do I ask my son or daughter if they have an eating disorder?

If you have reason to believe there is a problem, tell them you are concerned without using guilt or blame. Begin by saying, “We have noticed this. Let’s talk.” Skip the lecture, ask open questions, and do more listening than talking. Show compassion and patience. Don’t accuse, shame, or demand anything (except, of course, a visit to a doctor).

Find a therapist that has experience and training in eating disorders. Educate yourself with the resources available from reputable sources such as the National Institute of Mental Health site, the National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA) Parent Toolkit, or call the NEDA Helpline at 800-931-2237. HelpGuide.org also has a good basic guide for family and friends.

Why is our son or daughter doing this? Is it my fault?

Finding who to blame should not be your first action. However, the question may nag you whether you as a parent have contributed to your child’s condition. Parents do not cause eating disorders. Studies have found that someone can inherit a predisposition, but there are many other factors involved. Like in Demi’s case, where she suffered from depression first, and was later diagnosed with bipolar disorder, ED is often combined with other mental conditions such as depression, obsessive compulsive disorder, or anxiety. Personality traits like perfectionism, eagerness to please, and being highly driven seem to correlate. ED patients come from every sort of family, every ethnicity, cultural background, and economic status. Parents can, however, be instrumental to recovery.

Be an educated parent, you will have healthier teens.

Cutting: Self-Harm, Self-Injury – now Self-Embedding, Teens in Crisis

Self-injury with teenagers has been a constant and growing concern for parents and professionals.  Objects such as metal (paper clips), crayons, and plastics are some of the examples of what teens are inserting into their skin after cutting themselves.

According to CNN Health, self-embedding is a less common form of self-injury than cutting, said Joseph Garbely, chief medical officer at Friends Hospital in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Teens who engage in self-mutilating behaviors tend to have low self esteem and problems dealing with their feelings, he said. Some come from abusive households. Others are doing it to rebel, or to imitate peers, or to regulate difficult emotions.

Generally, the purpose of self-embedding and other forms of self injury is to take away unpleasant feelings, he said. When engaging in this behavior, the body releases chemicals called endorphins that, at least temporarily, regulate painful emotions.

According to experts, one of the most common reasons teens self injure is because the injury is in some way a “release” from emotional anxiety. The pain of the injury provides a distraction from the emotional pain the teen is feeling, and acts almost as a drug to them. It can also help the injured feel ‘human’ again, by putting them in touch with a common human experience: pain.

Self-embedding is generally not a suicidal act, but a person can develop skin infections or worse: Bone infections or deep muscle infections.

Dr. William Shiels, who conducted a study about this this subject, said objects may also travel inside the body and get near vital organs. Getting these objects removed early is important. The study revealed that 11 patients aged 14 to 18 engaged in this behavior out of 600 patients who had received treatment for removing foreign objects embedded in soft tissue.

If you discover that your teen is cutting, there are several important keys to remember. First and foremost, approach your teen with a level head. Address your teen calmly and supportively. Do not react angrily or upset your teen in any way. Experts warn that overreacting or reacting loudly or angrily can often push your teen further away and increase the cutting or self injuring behaviors. Your teen needs to know you are open to hearing what she has to say and getting her the help she needs. You should also tell your teen that you are not upset with her, love her, and know she is in a lot of pain.

Counseling for a teen that cuts is crucial. It can often take many years of therapy before your teen is willing or able to uncover the reasons she cuts herself. Schools, pediatricians and emergency rooms can be extremely helpful at providing resources for teens that cut. Often there are local support groups for parents who feel guilty or unsure of how to deal with a teen that cuts.

A great resource in Broward County is OPP (Office of Prevention Programs for Self-Injury) specifically for self injurers and their families, an organization dedicated treating victims of self abuse.

Sources: CNN Health, Teen Self Injury, S.A.F.E.

Be an educated parent, you have safer and healthier teens!

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