Cutting Edge

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

Forty-one percent: That's how many respondents to our recent online poll at said they've either known someone who self-mutilates, did so at some point in their life, or have a child who has been a cutter. While the results of our poll aren't scientific, they do demonstrate a chilling trend. For a closer look at the problem of teen self-mutilation, read on. —The Editors

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

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

She'd discovered faded marks on her daughter's arms a few days earlier. When she inquired about the scars, her daughter made an excuse. But later, when the mother passed her daughter's half-opened bedroom door and caught her changing, she spotted fresh cuts running up and down her child's legs. When she confronted her daughter, she was stunned to discover additional self-inflicted cuts to her daughter's torso.

She called her stomach her "billboard," carving on it words she couldn't say to anyone else.

"I've asked myself a hundred times what I did wrong," the woman told me. "My daughter's 15. She's bright. She has friends. I didn't know anyone did this … "

A Troubling Trend

This behavior has many names: cutting, self-injury, self-mutilation, self-violence. It includes not only cutting but also scratching, picking scabs, burning, punching, bruising or breaking bones, or pulling out hair. Though death isn't the goal of this deliberate, repetitive harm to one's body, it can cause scarring, infection, and even fatality if a cut goes too deep or an infection isn't treated.

Self-injury crosses economic brackets, education, race, gender, and age. But the majority of those involved are middle- to upper-class adolescent girls. Exact statistics are hard to pinpoint because the behavior often is hidden. But one thing's clear: The growing trend of self-injury isn't confined to teens outside the church. As a youth worker, I've connected with Christian teens for more than 15 years. Until a few years ago, self-injury was rarely mentioned. That's changed.

Recently I attended a basketball game with several Christian teens. When a player swished a three-pointer, we jumped to our feet to celebrate, and a girl in front of me threw her hands up in the air. That's when I saw the faded scars that ran down the length of one arm; two small cuts veered across the large vein on her hand. Without thinking, I placed my hand over the cuts, and she jerked down her sleeve.

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May 25

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