Self-Harm Signs and Resources for Parents

A mother and daughter hug

Self-Harm Signs and Resources for Parents

It’s a sad and painful fact that about 17% of adolescents engage in self-harm in the United States alone. These behaviors can be terrifying and confusing for the parents looking out for them. It may leave you unsure what to look for or where to turn to keep the situation from getting any worse.

Viewpoint Center understands that you want to help. If you believe your child may be self-harming, here are the signs you need to know to get them the treatment they need.

Why Do Teens Self-Harm?

Many adolescents struggle with their mental health. Seriously distressing disorders like depression and anxiety or repeated bouts of trauma can lead to extremely strong and painful emotions.

Sufferers haven’t been given the resources they need to cope properly with them and seek release. The physical pain that comes from self-harm is often the form that release takes.

Most self-harm attempts are not suicide attempts – the person harming doesn’t want to die; they want to not feel what they’re feeling, or they want to feel some level of control over themselves or their situation.

Self-harm itself may not be a suicidal act, but the feelings that cause it can often escalate into suicidal ideation. It’s essential to catch the signs early on and get your child proper treatment as soon as possible.

Signs of Self-Harm in Teens

A person who self-harms will often go to great lengths to hide that they are doing it. They may feel guilty or ashamed, or they may not want to burden other people. So, it’s incredibly important to pay attention to small but noticeable changes.

Some signs of self-harm include:

  • Fresh injuries – cuts, scrapes, bruises, burns, etc. – that seem to come from nowhere
  • Constant reports of “accidental” injuries
  • Inconsistent or improbable explanations about their injuries, or refusing to explain them at all
  • Collecting sharp or dangerous objects like knives, blades, harsh chemicals like bleach, or cigarette lighters.
  • Wearing clothing that covers the arms, legs, or neck, even when it’s extremely hot
  • Jumping or snapping when touched, even in passing, especially on the arms or legs.
  • Increased impulsive or unstable behavior like excessive online shopping or late-night trips and sudden outbursts
  • Withdrawing from family and friends
  • Difficulty starting or maintaining friendships
  • Expressing feelings of helplessness, hopelessness, or worthlessness (i.e., “You’d be better off without me,” “I’ve got nothing to look forward to,” “I’m too tired to do anything,” “I don’t want to bother you,” “What’s the point?” etc.)

Every person is different, and not everyone will have every symptom.

If you notice that they are exhibiting multiple symptoms from the above list, you should address it as soon as possible. You need to approach them about it carefully, though. Use language that isn’t accusatory or judgmental, and let them know that you are concerned about them and want to help.

Where to Get Help for Your Child’s Self-Harm

Self-harm needs to be treated immediately to prevent the problems your child is facing from escalating. There are a few treatment options available to parents with struggling adolescents.


For immediate help, you can use a number of distraction techniques. Ask your child to tell you when they feel that they need to self-harm, and then suggest that they instead:

  • Text a crisis line to talk out their emotions without having to speak (as this might trigger more anxiety). Crisis Text Line always has a trained counselor available if you text the word HOME to 741741.
  • Replicate the motions without the injury by drawing on themselves with a skin-safe marker. If they need more stimulation, they can try tracing on themselves with a piece of ice.
  • Express themselves creatively by writing, drawing, painting, or even just coloring with crayons.

There are hundreds of distraction techniques and suggestions available online for you to reference.


In the long term, you should talk to your child about getting medical treatment and involve them in the process. Consult their pediatrician to assess any physical problems that may be contributing to their emotional state.

Then, ask them to see a specialist. A youth therapist can identify the root cause of these behaviors and recommend a good course of treatment.

This usually involves cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) to redirect their behaviors and other forms of talk therapy to address the causes of the emotions and develop better coping mechanisms going forward. It may also include medication for the underlying mental health condition.

Treatment Facilities

For particularly serious or recurring instances of self-harm, your child may need more intensive treatment. Treatment facilities, such as residential treatment centers or inpatient mental health centers might be the best course of action if your child’s mental state hasn’t responded to outpatient actions.

Mental Health Hospitals like Viewpoint Center can give your child the structured, monitored environment they need to heal and improve. Most are designed specifically for a particular age range, so your child is receiving treatment with other kids their age, which can foster a sense of community and leave them feeling less alone.

Review treatment center options with your child and find the one that is best for their individual needs. Evaluate the facility’s resources and programs, and when you’re ready, schedule an assessment to begin your child’s treatment plan.

How Viewpoint Center Can Help Your Child Stop Self-Harming

Viewpoint Center knows you want the best for your child. That’s why they’ve put together a strong treatment program based on a balance between socialization, academics, and the comforts of home.

Viewpoint Center is located in beautiful Salt Lake City, Utah, and uses many unique programs to build your child’s personal plan. The experienced team of industry professionals at Viewpoint Center is glad to get to know your child’s situation and work with them to provide a clear framework for the future.If you and your child are ready to get help, contact Viewpoint Center today to start your assessment process and get your child back to a happier place.