Here’s what my teen has to say on this topic:
- Do you know that you cannot imagine pain, you can only experience it? If I tell you, I am going to punch you, you cannot imagine how it will feel, you can only experience it if I actually punch you.
- No, I don’t need to check my pain tolerance… my body can endure a lot.
Beyond this, I have not managed to get anything more out of him on the subject of feeling pain and putting the body through pain. So being left to my own devices, my own experiences and information of how young adults process pain, here are some of my observations.
A rather disturbing article on Time.com (http://time.com/4547322/american-teens-anxious-depressed-overwhelmed/) investigates why teens inflict pain upon themselves and what they hope to achieve. It was shocking for me to see that almost 60% of young girls and 30-40% of teen boys self harm as a way to deal with anxiety and stress. While cuts and slashed wrists to us parents seem signs of attempted suicide, it appears that is not what the teens have in mind when they cut themselves or hurt themselves. I found the article well researched and here are the key points shared:
- Some teens do self harm to deal with extreme anxiety that they feel and are unable to express in any other way. It is a momentary release for the stress that they feel inside.
- Others are often numbed by the pressures of their modern demanding lives: school pressures, social media pressures, online bullying, maintaining digital profiles and perceptions, and being connected to strangers and groups half way across the world. This exposure to the outside world is uncontrolled and impacts the teens in ways their parents cannot imagine. For them, physically harming themselves by cutting and letting blood is a way to be in the moment, to be able to feel the pain at the physical level, which they had so far been feeling on an emotional level.
- Like most of us, teens too are drawn to those aspects of the world that are different from their routine lives. Hence they try to reach out to people and groups who may follow a line of thinking that is very different from their own. This line of thinking can cause them to push themselves over the edge, and test their own limits. Eg: the blue whale game. For this lot, self inflicted harm is a way of connecting with their physical body for a while atleast. It brings peace, calm and stillness to their young restless minds.
What is worrying is that these teens are continuously exposing their bodies and minds to this torture. This often goes unnoticed by parents for years, for outwardly these children seem to be living a picture perfect life, complete with good grades, caring involved parents and a happy circle of friends.
As parents, look for signs if your teen is withdrawing from social interaction, be careful about putting too many expectations on your child. And if your teen does reach out to you telling you about self harm, try to understand what your child is going through. Do not punish, demean their issues or shame them for the behaviour.
As the graph above shows, the number of teens causing self harm, suffering from anxiety and depression is on the rise. While these numbers are 2014 numbers, and I am at this time, unable to source more current data, the graph is a very clear indicator of the continuous rise in the number of teens suffering from this worrying state of mind. Living with digital gadgets is one of the key causes, as your child could be sitting in the car right next to you but be connecting with an unknown teen suffering from depression or anxiety miles away. The young mind is usually unable to make the distinction between screen world and reality. So even while you may feel you are spending a lot of time with your child, the fact may be that, in today’s world where we all spend a lot of time checking our smartphones and staying connected online, your teen may be feeling alone, isolated and disconnected.
Is it possible for parents to identify if their child is going down the road towards self harm? Are their signs that we can watch out for? How do we help our child deal with stress and anxiety once we realise that the child is suffering from such a mental problem and needs help. Is there something that we can do? At what point should the family reach out to counsellors? Do read the Time article for excellent information and guidelines on the same issue. http://time.com/4547322/american-teens-anxious-depressed-overwhelmed/