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Teenage self harm

The path to becoming an adult is an exciting and busy time for teenagers. It is full of new experiences and challenges as teenagers begin to find out who they are and become more independent.

It can also be quite a testing time for parents. Many will have to cope with the mood changes and arguments that come with raising a teenager. Once you've got through to your teen, it's well worth it. Until then, if you are having a tough time coping, that's totally normal. Here you can find all the guidance and support you need to get through this tricky but rewarding period.


Read time: 3 minutes

Remember that as they become more independent teenagers are exposed to more risks. Like alcohol or pressure from peers to act in ways that seem out of character. These risks can make them more vulnerable to other risks. Exploitation or violence, for example.

At the same time teenagers have lots of expectations on them - from home, from school and from their peers. We expect them to act like young adults, yet they are often treated like children. So if you're concerned your teen does have a problem or is in trouble, it's important that you seek help. Don't just wait for them to grow out of it - you could be leaving them vulnerable.

The good news is there is lots of help available. And there is lots of information here to support you.

What is self-harm?

Self-harm, or self-injury, is when a person hurts themselves on purpose. As a parent, the thought of your teenager self-harming can be confusing and really frightening. But it's not uncommon. A study by University College London estimated that almost a quarter of 14-year-olds self-harmed. Or had at some point.

Why do some teenagers self-harm?

Self-harming is usually used to cope with difficult feelings. It can be a way of controlling, expressing or distracting from emotions. Or a way of relieving built-up tension.

These emotions can happen for many reasons, like:

  • Mental health issues, like anxiety, depression or eating problems
  • Being bullied
  • Grieving a death
  • Trouble with family relationship
  • Having low self-esteem
  • Being abused or neglected

The physical pain of self-harm can be a short-term way to focus on something other than emotional pain. As a parent, it's important to recognise that self-harm is a child's way of trying to help themselves. but it is a serious problem and it's best to tackle self-harming behaviours early.

Spotting signs of self-harm

Self-harm is far from a cry for attention. Teenagers usually hide it because they are embarrassed. And they will rarely reach out for help. This can make it hard to tell if your teenager is self-harming. But there are a few common signs:

  • New cuts, bruises, bite-marks, or cigarette burn
  • Signs they have been pulling their hair out
  • Always covering up, such as wearing long sleeves, even in summer
  • Blood stains on their clothing
  • Signs of depression, such as low mood and lack of interest in everything
  • Signs of low self-esteem, such as blaming themselves for things
  • Avoiding spending time with friends and family

Do any of these sound like your teenager? Don't panic. Spotting signs of self-harm in your teenager is a good first step. Now you can begin to help them find a safer way to cope with their feelings.

Top tips for supporting a teenager who is self-harming

Read time: 2 minutes

Emotional support

Talking with your teenager often isn't easy at the best of times! But gently getting them to open up is key to understanding their feelings. And it will be their feeling that are causing this behaviour. When speaking to your teenager, remember:

  • Don't force them. Let them know you're there when they choose to talk.
  • Listen. Keep an open mind. Try to understand why they do what they do and how they feel it helps them.
  • Help them reflect. Help them think about the pros and cons of their actions. Encourage them to think about the feelings causing their self-harm.
  • Don't judge. Tell them that you want to help them with their emotions. Remind them that they aren't to blame for their feelings.
  • Stay calm. Try not to tell them to stop. This could make them panic and hide their self-harm even more.

Managing self-harm

There are also many things you can do to support other habits that will help your teenager feel better. Which of the following works best for your teenager?

  • Find healthier ways of coping: Look for other things your teenager can do when they get the urge to self-harm. Some find it helpful to exercise, scream into a pillow, or rip up paper quickly.
  • Don't be heavy handed. Avoid just taking something a teenager uses for self-harm. This can cause them to find another way of hurting themselves.
  • Be open. Encourage your teenager to tell you when they feel like self-harming. Or when they have self-harmed. This way you can help them break the habit and make sure any injuries are looked after.
  • Help build their confidence. Remind your teenager of the things they do well, and of the good things about their personality. Help them learn a new skill. These things can create positive thoughts while building up their self-esteem.
  • Get help. Remember, help is at hand. Speak to your GP, a school counsellor, a mental health charity, or even family and friends. Let your teenager choose where to go for help. This reminds them that they have control.

Remember, you are not alone

Helping your teenager overcome self-harm can be really stressful for a parent. Your instincts will tell you to protect your child, but don't forget to look after yourself! Better yet, use the support that is there for you.

If you're worried about your teenager, speak to family or friends about your own feelings. Your GP and mental health charities will also listen and offer advice for you as well as your teenager. Remember, you are not alone!

Professional help

If you are worried about your teenager, or if the self-harm increases you should ask for professional help.

The best way to get the help they need is through their GP, who may refer them to the Child and Adolescent Mental Health Service (CAMHS) for assessment and a plan for support and treatment.

If your teen is reluctant to get help or doesn't acknowledge the risks you can still receive ask your GP for advice.

Information from external websites

Childline have pages for your teen on self-harm and self-harm coping techniques

Family Lives has an article to help you understand self-harm.

Harmless present the top 10 of helping those who self-harm

The NHS offer information on self-harm.

NSPCC has a helpful page on supporting teens who self harm

The Mix has lots of information for your teen on self-harm

Relate has an article for parents on self harm.

The Royal College of Psychiatrists shares detailed information for people who self-harm and also for parents on self-harm in young people

SupportLine has an informative page on self-harm.

Young Minds have a section for your teen on self-harm and a useful section for you on supporting a child who is self-harming

Safe Space Health UK is a website for young people aged 11 - 14 in Surrey. It offers helpful information about emotional health, lifestyle choices, relationships, keeping safe, growing up and being okay with being different.

Struggling and need to talk?

For you

Family Lives have a free, confidential helpline, offering emotional support, information, advice and guidance on any aspect of parenting and family life. Call the Family Lives helpline on 0808 800 2222 (Monday to Friday from 9am to 9pm and on weekends from 10am to 3pm).

NSPCC has a free, confidential helpline for parents looking for advice. Call 0808 800 5000 (Monday to Friday 8am – 10pm or 9am – 6pm at the weekends).

SupportLine provides a confidential helpline offering emotional support to any individual on any issue, including self-harm. It is open to any individual of any age. Call 01708 765200 or email

The Surrey Children and Family Health Advice Line is available from 8am to 5pm, Monday to Friday (excluding Bank Holidays). They can provide support on all aspects of child health, development and parenting for families with children from birth to 19 years old. Call the Surrey-wide 0-19 Advice Line on 01883 340 922

Young Minds has a free parents helpline. For detailed advice, emotional support and signposting about your teen call 0808 802 5544 (9:30am to 4pm, Monday to Friday)

For your teen

Child and Family Health Surrey offer a text service called ChatHealth, a confidential school nurse messaging service for young people aged 11-19. Young people can contact their school nurse in confidence by text. The Chat Health text number is: 07507 329 951 (Mon - Fri 9am - 5pm).

All of the issues discussed are confidential unless a child's safety, or that of others, is at risk. The school nurses will always encourage young people to discuss issues with their parents or guardians.

Childline have a free and confidential helpline for children. You could encourage your child to call 0800 1111 if they need to speak to someone - open 7 days a week from 7.30am - 3.30am. Childline also have a 1-2-1 counsellor chat for children who don't want to speak on the phone.

The Mix has a free helpline for under 25s who need help but don't know where to turn. Your teen can call 0808 808 4994 (7 days a week from 3pm to 12am. You can also web chat 7 days a week from 3pm to 12am, however chats may not be connected after 11:15pm).

Self injury helpline is for girls needing support (Wed, Thurs and Fri 7pm - 9.30pm) Call 0808 8008088. Text and web chat support also available.

SupportLine provides a confidential helpline offering emotional support to any individual on any issue, including self-harm. It is open to any individual of any age. Call 01708 765200 or email

Useful videos

Young Minds share useful tips on responding to self harm.

View on YouTube

Childline share a video on coping with self-harm and another on moving on from self-harm.

Young Minds share positive stories of self-harm recovery

The Families Under Pressure video collection offers a great series of short top tips videos on managing behaviour and help with negative emotions. Perfect for when your family leave you feeling frazzled!

Helpful tools and apps

Alumina offer free online self-harm support for 14-19 year olds. They offer information for parents who'd like to know more about the programme

Virtual College offer a free 1 hour e-learning course Talking to your Children about Emotional Resilience and Self Harm. The course aims to provide essential information that empowers and equips parents to better communicate with their children on the issue of self harm.

Why not suggest your teen download the Childline For Me App.

Kooth is a free online counselling and emotional well-being platform for children and young people aged 11 - 18. Accessible through mobile, tablet and desktop 365 days a year on Monday to Friday from 12pm–10pm and Saturday and Sunday from 6pm until 10pm.
Your teen can sign up here

You might want to suggest your teen tries the MeeTwo App. it is free, and allows peer to peer support for 11-25 year olds in a forum monitored by trained adults. If your 14 year old posts a question, only other 14 year olds will see the post and be able to respond. Adults monitor questions and answers and hand the question to a counsellor if they feel the child needs more than peer support.

Download Meetwo from Google Play

Download MeeTwo from App Store

Mental Health Foundation have a free booklet the truth about self-harm for young people, their friends and families.

Mindsight Surrey CAMHS share a help sheet you can print out on managing urges to self-harm

The Mix offers a Crisis Text Line for under 25s. Let your teen know if they can't cope and are worried about their feelings they can text THEMIX to 85258 for instant help. The service runs 24/7 and is free.

The NHS recommend the Calm Harm App or the BlueIce App for resisting the urge to self-harm. They also recommend the DistrACT App for discrete access to information and advice about self-harm.

You might want to download or print Oxford University's Coping with self-harm: a guide for parents and carers

Self Injury Support have self-help information and resources.

Surrey and Boarders Partnership NHS Trust has a leaflet you can print out on what self-harm is

Young Minds also provides free, 24/7 text support for young people across the UK experiencing a mental health crisis. All texts are answered by trained volunteers, with support from experienced clinical supervisors. Texts can be anonymous, but if the volunteer believes your teen is in immediate risk of harm, they may share their details with people who can provide support. Text YM to 85258.

Surrey's Family Learning and Adult Learning teams have developed a family wellbeing resource, with lots of tips on looking after yourself and your family during these challenging times.

Online parenting guides

Surrey residents get free access to three online guides that include top tips from childcare, education and NHS health experts.

How to register

Registration is quick and easy. Go to the OurPlace website and use the access code 'ACORN' to get your free guides.

Access to the guides is unlimited with no expiry date, so you can return as and when you need and want to. Why not watch the Child and Family Health video to find out more.

Community support, courses and local help

Choose the area you live in for local services. Please note that due to coronavirus (Covid-19) very few community services are currently running.

BETA: We would really appreciate your feedback to help us improve and grow the service. We're listening!

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Date published: 22 Apr 2021