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Why Are There Scratches On My Teen's Arms? PDF Print
Icing. Self-Mutilating. Scratching. Cutting. Burning.

There is a somewhat disturbing trend in teen culture today. It doesn't only occur with teenagers, but it often first occurs when the person is a teen. So what is this, and why does it occur?

The clinical term is Self-Mutilation. It is when a person intentionally hurts themself. It may or may not draw blood or leave scars. Often people who self-mutilate say that they do it to release pain. It helps them to feel alive. Somebody who self-mutilates usually feels a great deal of overwhelming anxiety, and they do not know how to calm down, so they self-mutilate.

It is often done in secret. The person can feel shame when it is discovered. Sometimes a teen will do something to bring attention to their secret - wear something that shows the scratched area, take a knife in front of the parent, or show their parent. This is a cry for help, and should be taken seriously.

What you want to look for are scratches or marks on your teen's skin. Often this occurs on the teens arms, near their wrists. But when teens know they are being watched, they often move to ankles, thighs, and other places that the parents can't see.

As I stated above, it is actually somewhat trendy to try this. However, most teens who try this often don't like it and will move on to something else on their own. It is when the teen feels overwhelming pain and anxiety, and it feels good to them, that they decide to continue self-mutilating.

People who are not treated, may increase the intensity of their mutilation. They may scratch a name or outline of a picture onto their skin. They may use ice or cigarettes to burn themselves. People who struggle with this are highly motivated to cut themselves, and will use anything - razor blades, scissors, soda cans, paper clips, or anything else that seems sharp enough.

Though they are hurting themselves, self-mutilation is not usually linked to sucide. They are not usually trying to kill themselves. However, due to the dangerousness of this behavior, it is highly recommended that you have a professional therapist or doctor assess and treat them.

I remember a client I had who struggled with self-mutilation. Let's call her Jill. Jill got straight A's, sang in the school choir, and was active in her church's youth group. She had had a difficult past, but that was many years ago. When she came to see me, she was 13, and her mother brought her in because of her intense mood swings. After a few sessions, she showed me her scratches. They were on her ankles. Her mother had noticed, but had heard about self-mutilation before and didn't think these were serious. What her mother didn't know is that they were also on her thighs. The cuts there were deeper and were leaving scars. Jill scratched herself usually with soda can tops in her room every week. When she and her mother had their usual battle over typical teen issues, Jill became overwhelmed, and after crying and yelling at her mother, she would go to her room, shut the door, and look for a soda can top.

Through our work together, Jill was able to learn how to regulate her mood without using self-mutilation. She learned how to disagree with her mother without it leading to an overwhelming battle. She learned how to take care of herself when she was feeling down or anxious.

Self-Mutilation is usually a sign of a great deal of pain. If you believe your teen may be struggling with this, please seek help.