Sunday, October 27, 2013

Self-Injury (cutting) goes mainstream. How you can help

Can you spot the cutters in your youth group? They are there. If you've been in youth ministry for any amount of time I'll bet you've run across more than one person who is engaging in the act of cutting as a way to manage chronic and overwhelming emotional pain.
In 2002 schools in England reported that almost 7% of their students reported an act of deliberate self-harm. The largest group is girls under the age of 18. Parenting.org website reports that their Boys Town National Hotline received 696 calls in 2007 whose primary issue was self-injury, or cutting. In 2011 that number was 2052, nearly triple.

In his book, "Hope and Healing for Kids Who Cut," Marv Penner does a great job of defining the problem, explaining the reason, a suggesting concrete ways to fight this growing danger to our kids.

In 2007, we received 696 contacts from individuals whose primary issue was self-injury.  In 2011, that number nearly trippled to 2,052. - See more at: http://www.parenting.org/article/cutting-and-self-injury-we-can-help#sthash.sjIf4RN2.dpuf
In 2007, we received 696 contacts from individuals whose primary issue was self-injury.  In 2011, that number nearly trippled to 2,052. - See more at: http://www.parenting.org/article/cutting-and-self-injury-we-can-help#sthash.sjIf4RN2.dpuftheir
In 2007, we received 696 contacts from individuals whose primary issue was self-injury.  In 2011, that number nearly trippled to 2,052. - See more at: http://www.parenting.org/article/cutting-and-self-injury-we-can-help#sthash.sjIf4RN2.dpuf
In 2007, we received 696 contacts from individuals whose primary issue was self-injury.  In 2011, that number nearly trippled to 2,052. - See more at: http://www.parenting.org/article/cutting-and-self-injury-we-can-help#sthash.sjIf4RN2.dpuf
Hope and Healing for Kids Who Cut: Learning to Understand and Help Those Who Self-Injure - Unabridged Audiobook [Download]
By Marv Penner / Zondervan/Youth Specialties
The issue of self-injury has become increasingly visible in the world of adolescents and young adults in recent years. The chaos of divorce, poverty, substance abuse, mental illness, and neglect has kids looking for ways to manage chronic and overwhelming emotional pain. In Hope and Healing author Marv Penner will take you into the world of self-injury, defining what it is and what it is not. He provides the tools and wisdom to help understand the pain and confusion a self-injurer experiences and how to walk with them toward the Light to find hope and healing.
I'm usually shocked (and very saddened) when I find out. In a perfect world, one free of the bad events stated above, this would never happen. Frequently my mind goes into the "If only" loop: "If only I had done said this...", "If only her parents had...", "if only she was was not bullied...".  The "If only..." torment is frequently experienced after a tragedy, like a suicide, when it's too late.  The positive news, however, is that  the hurting child is still here, Far from being a wish to end it all this is a call for help.

As a youth worker we are already in a good position to offer help:

We already have an established relationship of trust with this young person. A teen who is constantly being bullied at school or is neglected at home is trying to deal with emotional pain of betrayal, depression, and despair anyway they can. They learn from others that cutting helps, and shockingly, it does for awhile. They may not have anyone in their lives who can offer better ways to handle stress and pain. They might be too ashamed to ask and afraid of the reaction they'll get. Sharing is risky and leaves them vulnerable to even more pain and rejection. If you can be a friend, be a good friend. If you are a leader, lead them into hope and show them grace.

We can apply The Word of Truth to combat the false assumptions they've made about themselves or their situation. At this age they are forming their own identities.  They now have the ability to review their past and present for clues. They may decide that they are stupid because they are doing poorly in school. They might determine that they are unlovable if their parents have been too self-absorbed in their own lives to really care about them. Peers may be telling them they are worthless. They might be bearing the burden of guilt or shame from a past sexual abuse. The most effective method to combat these false assumptions is to help them grasp and believe the truth of their identity in Christ

Make sure they are comfortable and involved in your youth group.  They need to feel wanted  and significant. Kids don't do this automatically. Group building must be an ongoing goal for every activity you do. You need to teach them how to care for each other with words and deeds.

Teach them What the Bible says. Most have not yet read the Bible. Wearing a WWJD bracelet will not help unless they know what Jesus did. Use my lesson plans to help. Don't assume that the kids attending your youth group or Sunday School are saved. Help them make an informed decision, and a lasting commitment to Jesus as their Savior. No more bubble gum. Give them real meat.

There is a lot you can do. There are over thirty five free Bible lesson plans on my website and links to hundreds of other resources. Buy the book suggested above to be informed and get it into the hands of parents.

Help relieve them of guilt and shame they may feel from an abusive or traumatic situation.
Sexual abuse and abandonment can cause a child to conclude that they are defective in some way. They can also feel guilty about their feelings of anger toward people who have hurt them. Children in Christian families can also feel like they've failed to appropriate the victorious Christian life like all the other smiling people in church.

Know when to call in professionals.  Self-Injury is just a symptom of much deeper issues. Feelings of abandonment, defectiveness, low self-esteem, depression, and despair present huge obstacles to be overcome. You can be a significant helper in these areas but professional assistance may be needed to address the serious issues.

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