November 18, 2017

Why Young People Self-Harm

Self-harming is one of those areas which elicits strong feelings such as disgust, horror and denial and many of us shy away from it, thinking it is attention-seeking, a phase the young people are going through, or copying peers.

It is prevalent among youngsters and can take many forms, from cutting, to alcohol /drug abuse, promiscuous behaviour and eating disorders. It appears that this behaviour, perhaps more traditionally exhibited by girls, is now becoming more popular with boys.

All of this throws up the question Why? Why now, why is it on the increase, what is happening in Society to cause this behaviour?

Young people live in a very different world to the one I grew up in. At school children are continually under pressure to perform, they are regularly tested and assessed, and teachers and schools have more pressure put upon them with performance related pay and competitive league tables.

Young people are then told that exams are easier than they used to be, so cynical adults undermine their achievements. There is more competition for school and university places, jobs, and they are all encouraged to follow a dream that in many cases does not become reality.

Homes do not always provide the relaxing environment children need to wind down in. Many children pursue clubs and activities in the evenings, most of which have a competitive element to them (swimming badges, karate belts, music grades and so on) or have extra tutoring to attend. Life is busier generally so parents may be working long hours and coming home tired and preoccupied, and there are more split families where children have to divide their time between different parents and different locations.

The other major change is that of technology. Children are contactable 24/7, and are encouraged (by their peers) to live their lives online. It is all ‘out there’. Facebook, twitter, Instagram, tumblr, whatsapp – a plethora of mediums in which children can publish every detail of their life or have details published about them by other people. Have they lost that feeling of ‘inner-self’ that we had growing up, where we lived our lives for our own purpose and feeling of self-worth, without having to broadcast to the world our actions?

As a Society we are responsible for the world our children are growing up in. The pressures of this modern world are resulting in some extreme behaviours like self-harming, and we can no longer ignore the signs. We need to create an environment where children feel ‘safe’, ‘accepted’, and ‘loved’ for who they are.

We all self-harmed in one way or another. This may be through smoking, one too many glasses of wine or beer, eating the wrong foods, working too hard and so on. We could all look after ourselves a bit better, and perhaps this is the first step in supporting our children – in having some open discussions about what it actually means to look after and respect yourself and your body, and how to deal with some of the negative feelings which may arise from this.

I have learnt that this is a subject that won’t go away, and it can affect any family and any child, regardless of background or ability. We have a duty to protect our young people, and it all starts with us being open-minded, spending quality time with our children, showing interest and really listening.

What do you think and what have been your experiences? Get in touch and let me know.

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