Yesterday I posted a link on Facebook to my blog on cutting. One of my former youth group kids (who is now a mom in her 40s) commented under the link: “Last year, my 9th grade daughter could name 23 kids she knew who cut. It’s an epidemic!” Yes. . . it’s out there and it’s widespread. So, what should we do?
First, we must come to an understanding of the path this trend looks to take. We can be sure that the stigma associated with SIB will continue to disappear as this generation’s bloody cry of confusion and self-hate appears on individual bodies and collective soul. Consequently, SIB will become more pervasive as a “normal” coping mechanism. If that happens, chances are good that SIB might move so far into the mainstream of youth culture that kids who exhibit none of the classic SIB precipitating factors will cut themselves simply because it’s fashionable. In addition, we can expect that increased “publicity” for cutting will plant the idea in younger and younger minds. Eventually, we might expect SIB experimentation to be more common among curious and impressionable young elementary school aged children.
Second, we must consider how to respond in a loving manner. We could shake our heads in disgust, write it off as another link in the chain of “typically bizarre adolescent behavior”, then walk away hoping that the next generation of children and teens will somehow get their act together and make more out of their lives. But if that’s our approach, we haven’t truly heard “the voice on the skin” for what it is. Rather, we will have added another ugly link into the chain of ignorant and inappropriate responses to young people today. Our ignorance will only serve to remove opportunities for kids who cut to hear a message of healing and love.
Third, we must be able to recognize the signs. In his helpful book, Hope and Healing for Kids Who Cut, Marv Penner says there are many “clues” that something may be wrong. We must look for things like unexplained cuts and bruises, wearing long sleeve shirts or long pants during warm weather, wearing jewelry or wristbands that cover cuts and scars, a collection of cutting paraphernalia (razors, knives, etc.), bloodied tissues or towels, first aid supplies, or rubbing wrists through their sleeves. If you suspect, ask.
Finally, we must diligently work to exert a redemptive influence on those who resort to cutting. Their cries must be answered through counseling and long-term relationships with mentors who speak and live an example of redeeming love. For many, it will be the first time someone really cares. While you can always care and walk with them through the issues, be sure to point them to a trained and competent professional counselor who has a good track-record of ministering to and helping cutters.
Whether you know it or not, you do know kids who cut. I recommend that all youth workers and all parents add some resources on cutting to their library. These are resources you should not only read as a way to learn more about cutting, but they are resources that should be on your shelf at arm’s length so that you can reach for them in that short moment when crisis hits and you need to act. Here are four helpful resources that I highly recommend and that can be obtained through our CPYU resource center. Sure, you might be able to get them Amazon for a few cents cheaper, but getting them through CPYU is a way to support our ongoing ministry.
Hope and Healing for Kids Who Cut, by Marv Penner
The Youth Worker’s Guide to Helping Teenagers In Crisis, by Rich Van Pelt and Jim Hancock
The Parent’s Guide to Helping Teenagers in Crisis, by Rich Van Pelt and Jim Hancock