Why Do Teenagers Self-Harm?

why do teenagers self-harm

Why Do Teenagers Self-Harm?

What I say when asked why do teengers self-harm?

I often get asked by parents who want to know why teenagers self-harm. I can give them a bit of a steer as to why, in general, teengagers self-harm, but every child is different. There are many reasons behind self-harming. It’s also important to remember that we all self-harm to some extent or other. Staying up late to binge watch that box-set when you’ve got an important meeting in the morning? That’s a form of self-harm. Failing to do any form of self-care? That’s a form of self-harm.  As is continuously being attracted to the wrong type of person, eating unhealthily, smoking, vaping…and the list goes on.

So, what do all these have in common? They all provide some type of relief in the short-term. That could be a sense of comfort, familiarity or even a feeling of switching off. These are, of course, on the milder end of the spectrum, but it’s useful to know that we all indulge in self-harming behaviours.  In the meantime, back to the teenagers and the reasons why they might be drawn to this behaviour.

It helps them cope with emotional pain

Teenagers may use self-harm as a way to cope with overwhelming emotions such as sadness, anger, anxiety, or frustration. It can serve as a temporary release from emotional pain. When we self-harm, it can lead to the release of endorphins, which are the body’s natural painkillers and mood elevators. This can create a temporary sense of relief and euphoria.

Seeking Attention or Help

In some cases, self-harm can be a way for teenagers to communicate their need for help or support when they find it challenging to express their struggles in other ways. It’s a shame that we so often dismiss this need for attention, as it’s an intrinsic human need. If someone needs attention, that surely is what we should be giving them, especially if they are self-harming to get it.

If communication skills are lacking, self-harm may serve as a visible expression of inner emotional turmoil. It can be a way for individuals to communicate their distress when words fail them.

Peer Pressure

Social pressure, bullying, or the desire to fit in can also be reasons your teenager might start to self-harm. If it is isolating being the only one who doesn’t do it, then why not try it, just this once?

Mental Health Issues

Issues such as depression, anxiety, or borderline personality disorder can contribute to self-harm. Addressing these underlying issues often results in this behaviour fading away. Engaging in self-harm can provide a distraction from overwhelming emotional pain. The focus on physical pain may divert attention from intense emotions, at least temporarily.

It gives a sense of control

For some, self-harm can provide a sense of control in situations where they may feel powerless or overwhelmed. The act of self-harm can be a way to regain a perceived sense of control over their own bodies and emotions.


In some cases, self-harm may be driven by feelings of guilt, shame, or self-loathing. The act of self-harm can serve as a form of self-punishment for perceived wrongs or failures.

It’s natural as a parent to be very worried if your child self-harms. If they have told you about it, that’s a good thing. It can serve as a starting point for conversations around the situations above, to help you and your teenager navigate this challenge. Working with a therapist can also be very useful, as they will create a safe, independent space where your child can feel heard and explore their feelings without worries around upsetting you.

I am happy to chat if you think or know that your child is self-harming. I can work with your teenager. If your teenager is getting support already, I also work with parents who perhaps need extra support through this difficult time. Please  contact me and I’ll get back to you as soon as possible, or you can book a Zoom session here. I see clients in person in Hythe and Folkestone, and also offer online and telephone sessions.