The Razor's Edge

Why even Christian teens aren't immune from the epidemic of self-mutilation—and what you can do.

Fifty-one percent—that's how many respondents to our recent informal online poll (www.christianparenting.net) said they've either known someone who self-mutilates, did so themselves as a teen, or have a child who has been a "cutter." While the results of our poll aren't scientific, they do demonstrate parents need to be aware of this chilling trend. For a closer look at the problem of teen mutilation, read on. —the editors

She lingered behind the others, waiting to speak to me after the workshop I taught at a Christian parenting conference.

"My daughter's hurting herself," the woman whispered, staring at the wall behind me, her eyes brimming with tears. "I don't know what to do."

She'd discovered the faded marks on her daughter's arms a few days earlier. When she'd inquired about the scars, her daughter had made an excuse. A couple days later, when the woman passed the half-open door of her daughter's bedroom and caught her daughter changing, she stopped in shock. Fresh cuts ran up and down her child's legs. She confronted her daughter, stunned to discover additional cuts over her torso. Her first thoughts were shame. "I've asked myself a hundred times what I did wrong," she said. "My daughter's 15. She's bright. She has friends. I didn't know that anyone did this…"

A Troubling Trend

This behavior has many different names: cutting; self-injury; self-mutilation; self-violence. It's defined as a deliberate, repetitive, and non-life-threatening harming of one's body that not only includes cutting, but also scratching, picking scabs, burning, punching, infecting oneself, bruising or breaking bones, or hair pulling.

Self-injury crosses economic brackets, education, race, and age. While there are both male and female self-injurers, the majority are middle- to upper-class adolescent girls. Because self-injury often is hidden, it's hard to pinpoint exact statistics. But one thing's clear: Self-injury is a growing trend, and it's not confined to teens outside the church. As a youth worker, I've connected with Christian teens for more than 15 years. Until two years ago, self-injury was rarely mentioned. In the past two years, that has changed.

Many parents have shared their private pain at conferences, relief on their faces when the topic was broached in a workshop. In my home church, two teens struggling with self-injury have shared their stories with me in the past month.

This summer I was a dean at camp. A 14-year-old girl showed me the jagged scars on her stomach where she'd carved the name of her boyfriend with broken glass.

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May 25

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