Self-injurious behavior in adolescents is often used as an emotional release or to serve as a distraction from distress.
However, the relief that teens may experience is temporary and it is important to learn healthy coping skills to handle distress. While self-injurious behavior is frightening to parents and of great concern, typically self-harm behaviors are not the same as suicidal attempts. Adolescents who cut, burn or use other methods to harm themselves are usually wanting to cope with distress and emotions, not end their lives. Self-injurious behavior becomes a way to feel or cope. It is important that parents not react to the discovery of self-harm with punishment but instead offer support and encouragement. Therapy is recommended in order to help an adolescent learn healthier coping skills to manage feelings of low self-worth and self-defeating thinking. A therapist who specializes in treating self-injurious behavior may help a teen identify the triggers to self-harm and develop strategies to handle distress and pain.