The Family Project: Cutting
Q. Today I snooped in the bedroom of my 15-year-old daughter and found her diary. I feel horrible about having to do that, but she has not seemed herself lately, and I was concerned. She wrote that she has been cutting herself. How can I help her in lieu of how I found out?
The panelists were unanimous in suggesting that the mother try and find a way to see the daughter’s cuts so she can discuss it without having to admit reading the diary and risking losing the daughter’s trust.
If that fails, the mother should just admit to looking in the diary. If the daughter gets angry, the mother needs to respond that she is sorry, but they have a situation that they need to talk about.
Panelist Denise Continenza made two recommendations. The mother could talk to the daughter and tell her she has noticed that something is not right, adding, “I know something is up. You are my number one priority, and I need you to tell me what is wrong.” If the daughter doesn’t admit to cutting herself, the mother could tell her that she knows about the cutting, and then explain how she found out, saying, “You haven’t been yourself lately and I was concerned. I went into your room to see if I could find out what might be the problem, and I found your diary.”
There are books on self-inflicted cutting, and panelist Joanne Raftas suggested that the mother educate herself about the problem before having a discussion with her daughter. “Cutting is pretty common. Some people do it when they feel they can’t express themselves,” Raraftas said. “It can also be very addictive. For some kids, it hits the part of the brain that reinforces it [cutting] as a positive thing. In this case, we don’t know where it is on the spectrum.” “Cutting comes in waves,” according to panelist Chad Stefanyak. Sometimes, a youth does it because he or she sees some friends doing it. “I saw cutting in middle schools, but all cutting is different.” He said some students say it’s about feeling something. In other cases, it’s a control issue. In this case, Stefanyak urged the mother to approach the problem by insisting the daughter do something to get help, but also to give the daughter the option of choosing what to do. “Since she’s writing about it in her diary, she’s getting it out, panelist Pam Wallace said. “That’s a good thing.”
This week’s team of parenting experts are: Pam Wallace, Program Coordinator, Project Child, a program of Valley Youth House; Erin Stalsitz, casework supervisor, Lehigh County Children and Youth, Chad Stefanyak, School Counselor; Joanne T. Raftes, Registered Play Therapist; Denise Continenza, Extension Educator, Food, Families and Health, Penn State Extension and Wanda Mercado-Arroyo, Educator and former school administrator.
Have a question? Email: firstname.lastname@example.org. The Family Project is a collaboration of the Lehigh Valley Press Focus section and Valley Youth House’s Project Child.