What is "cutting"?
"Cutting" has received increased attention in recent years. It is a form of self-mutilation where girls literally cut their skin with knives, razors, or other sharp objects, and it is performed in a horribly misguided attempt to relieve extreme emotional stress. Adolescents who have "cut" say that it is their way of trying to convert emotional pain into physical pain that will eventually subside.
Some young people cut just to experience the act and never cut again. Others become addicted to the ritual for years. Those who repeatedly cut tend to have a higher likelihood of experiencing emotional problems, engaging in drug abuse, having endured prior sexual abuse, having an underlying eating disorder, exhibiting poor coping skills and self-esteem, lacking a good support system, and engaging in risky sexual practices such as unprotected intercourse.
One warning sign to parents is when an adolescent has unexplained injuries on her arms or legs, or when she habitually wears long sleeves in warm weather to hide the cuts. Accompanying signs can include a change in behavior, friendships, and school performance. Burning, scratching, picking skin, pulling hair out, eye pressing, and biting are other forms of self-mutilation.
Any suspicion of self-mutilation warrants a visit to a professional trained in dealing with this practice such as a mental health therapist, psychologist, or psychiatrist and should be addressed immediately. Individual and group therapies and medication have been used successfully to treat this addictive habit.
Anxiety disorders are the most common mental health problem in adolescents.
What are some of the more common psychological issues seen in adolescent females?
Every child experiences some anxiety. It can range from showing intense distress when the child is separated from her parents, or normal short-lived fears of such things as the dark or thunderstorms or animals. However, children with an anxiety disorder have a much more pronounced problem. Their anxiety interferes with their daily life. They are overly worried about things and events, and they are constantly seeking reassurance from others.
Anxiety disorders are the most common mental health problem in adolescents. Approximately 25% of adults have some form of such a disorder, and many state that their fears started in adolescence. A child's anxiety disorder can manifest itself in a host of ways, to include an obsessive fear about the safety of loved ones, a refusal to go to school, frequent stomachaches and physical complaints, excessive worrying about sleeping away from home, panic attacks or tantrums, being overly clingy, and having trouble sleeping.
Phobias are intense fears about specific things that cause extreme distress and interfere with daily activities. Examples include an unshakeable fear of needles, animals, bees, fire, lightning, and so on.
Social anxiety includes the fear of meeting and interacting with people. It often results in avoidance of social situations.
Obsessive Compulsive Disorder
Obsessive compulsive disorder, which is also referred to as OCD, often is the product of, or the source of, significant levels of anxiety. It includes repetitive, unwanted thoughts called obsessions, and repetitive, unnecessary actions called compulsions. When people think of OCD, they often think of repetitive hand washing. But the truth is that OCD can manifest itself in many ways.
Simply telling your daughter to stop worrying about her obsessions or to stop engaging in her compulsive behavior will be of no use. If she could stop on her own she would. She needs professional help in order to attain that goal.
All of these anxiety disorders are seen frequently in children, adolescents, and young adults, and the only truly effective approach is early diagnosis and treatment. Recent studies have shown that many of these disorders can be controlled with behavioral therapy, sometimes in conjunction with medication. Ignoring the problem only embeds the anxiety disorder more deeply into the lives of children, and these young people then carry it into adulthood. Therefore, if your daughter shows signs of suffering from one of these problems, take her to a mental health professional.
It is estimated that approximately 5% of children and adolescents suffer from depression at some time. Those at higher risk are children who are under stress; who have experienced a loss; or who have attention, learning, behavioral, or anxiety disorders. There is also a tendency for depression to run in families.
My daughter was especially anxious over copious amounts of homework. After a long day at school, she often felt incapable of tackling 25—30 math problems. My solution was this: I would instruct her to complete the first five problems and then report back to me. I would stress that it must be five. No more. No less.
By taking control and dividing her task into a more easily attainable goal, her stress was diminished. When she had completed the five problems, I would then instruct her to do a silly physical activity (the sillier the better).
An example: Instruct her to walk from point A to point B with a book on her head, one finger on her nose and one finger on her foot (if she drops the book, she must start all over), or to go outside and run around the house . . . backwards...two-times.
"But Mom .. .it's raining."
"You're right it is. Here's your raincoat."
These activities gave the OTHER side of her brain a challenge and were guaranteed to get both of us laughing. (It is true. Laughter is the best medicine.)
Consequently, I was able to instruct her to do several more questions, perhaps eight or nine, before her next "task." In so doing, she was able to complete all the homework, learn to reduce her stress, and even have some fun.
-  The practice of self-mutilation that involves cutting the skin with a sharp object in an attempt to ease internal pain, stress, or conflict. Typically the sites that are cut are hidden from view under clothing.
-  The period of time from the onset of puberty to maturity. The World Health Organization defines this period of time as including ages 10-19. Other organizations include the ages of 8-21.