Helping Teens Who Cut

By Gaan Akers, LPC, NCC | December 21, 2021

Parents and guardians want their children to be happy and healthy. You may try your best to give your child the world, but sometimes their emotions and feelings can become too built-up. Teenagers are still learning healthy methods to deal with their emotions, and some may result in an unhealthy and unsafe method — cutting or self-harm.

It’s tough knowing your teenager is hurting and feeling unsure of how to handle the situation. Taking the time to educate yourself on the situation can give you some useful tips on how to help your teen.

Learn more about adolescent cutting and how to get your teen the help they need.

In This Article

What Is Cutting?

Cutting or self-harm describes the act of intentionally causing harm or physical pain to oneself. Cutting, more specifically, is a type of self-harm where an individual cuts themselves with sharp items or objects like razor blades, knives and other tools. This typically isn’t done with the intent to commit suicide. Rather, it’s done to control or interrupt negative emotions and feelings.

Individuals can exhibit other self-harm behaviors like burning, strangulation, scratching and head-banging. Self-harm behaviors in teenagers are more common than parents or guardians would expect, affecting between 13%-23% of adolescents. Understanding why they might begin to adopt this behavior can help you find help for your teen.

Why Do Teens Cut?

Cutting is a complicated and complex behavior to grasp. It’s understandable why parents and guardians may have numerous questions about cutting or why someone would want to intentionally harm themselves. The behavior of cutting is commonly connected with various mental health situations like anxiety, depression and eating disorders.

Teens who harm themselves may have friends who exhibit similar self-harm behaviors or have a history of abuse, thoughts of suicide or low self-esteem. They may also see the behavior portrayed in books or TV shows, though other adolescents say they aren’t influenced by outside sources.

Many people view cutting as an attention-seeking action, but it’s more of a way to cope with unwanted and overwhelming feelings, as well as, a way to physically communicate emotions. Self-harm can also be a way for teens to express their emotionally pain tangibly or ask for help when they don’t know how.

Any sense of relief from self-harm is temporary, so the cycle of cutting can continue if teens or parents don’t seek out help.

Any sense of relief from self-harm is temporary, so the cycle of cutting can continue if teens or parents don't seek out help.

Signs of Cutting

If you’re wondering how you can tell if your teen is cutting themselves, look for these signs:

  • Continually has scars or cuts on their arms, legs, stomach or wrists
  • Constantly wearing long pants and long-sleeved shirts to cover new marks, even when it’s hot outside
  • Has difficulty handling their emotions
  • Is showing symptoms of anxiety or depression
  • Keeps sharp objects with them or in their room

What Should You Do if You Think Your Teen Is Cutting?

If you suspect your teen is cutting or harming themselves, you can find resources and methods that can help you and your teen through this situation. First, you’ll need to handle your own feelings because this situation isn’t easy on either party. Finding out your teen is hurting deeply can unearth a whirlwind of emotions as a parent or guardian.

Feel Your Emotions

When you first discover your teen is cutting themselves, you may feel sad, angry, guilty, confused or other strong emotions. This is likely a new topic for you to learn about, and all you want is for your child to be healthy and happy.

Every emotion you feel is understandable, and the most important thing to remember is this situation is neither yours nor your teen’s fault. Reserve time to process your emotions and talk to your partner, a close friend or a family member that you trust and reflect on the situation. You can always reach out to a professional, as well, to talk through your feelings.

Research Everything

Next, research everything you can about self-harm and cutting. The more information you learn from reputable sources, the easier it can be to understand your teen and how you can help them through this time. Reach out to mental health professionals as resources and for further research suggestions.

Speak With Your Teen

Speaking with your teen is another essential aspect of working through their cutting behavior. These conversations may be tough, and you may be unsure where to begin your conversation, but that’s OK. Opening up to your teen and making yourself available for them, offering love and expressing your concern is an excellent starting point.

It may not be easy for your teen to open up about their cutting. It’s important to listen and approach these conversations in a mild manner to keep conversations productive. Even if your teen shares little information with you, express that you want to understand their emotions and find ways to help them feel better.

Be Patient and Positive

Offering your teen support is one of the best things you can do to help your teen address this behavior. While you’re navigating this situation, make sure to check in with your emotions and try to stay hopeful and patient.

What Should You Avoid Doing if Your Teen Is Cutting?

Parents and guardians want to help their children, but it’s important to navigate this situation in the most productive way possible. To get the best help for your teen, avoid:

  • Thinking that mental health concerns aren’t common
  • Thinking that people can get rid of mental health concerns if they try hard enough
  • Thinking that children don’t have mental health concerns

What Should You Avoid Doing if Your Teen Is Cutting?

These and other common mental health myths hinder assisting your teen get help for self-harm. Instead, understand that one in six children and teens experience a mental health disorder. And while professional help and personal efforts can assist in behaviors, actions and emotions, people cannot simply “stop” or “get rid of” their mental health concerns immediately.

When Should You Seek Professional Help?

Seeking professional help for your teen if you find out they’re cutting themselves is crucial for their recovery. Getting treatment from a professional can help tend to underlying mental illness and other conditions that contribute to the self-harming behavior.

How Can You Help a Teen Who Is Cutting?

After seeking professional help for your teen, you can continue to help them heal by:

  • Acknowledging their pain and validating feelings during conversations
  • Finding new activities that your teen can accomplish to distract them from self-harming behaviors
  • Creating a list of people that your teen can talk to when they feel the urge to cut

Trust Hillside® for Self-Harming Treatment

Finding the best treatment for your teen is an essential part of their healing process. For excellent care and self-harm treatment, reach out to Hillside. We are the trusted treatment center in Atlanta for self-harming behaviors. Contact us today to learn more about our treatment options.


  • Gaan Akers, LPC, NCC

    Director of Clinical Education & Outreach - Gaan has been working with children, adolescents, and families for over 10 years in various settings. In her current role, she provides education and training for mental health professionals, parents, and the community. She lives in Atlanta with her husband. In her free time, she enjoys reading, hiking, climbing, and cooking. She is a donut aficionado and a national park enthusiast!

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