Self-Injury Part 1 – Intro to Self-Injury

Disclaimer – I write “Leadership Moments” for the volunteers at my church who work in our youth ministry. Each Leadership Moment is meant to equip the everyday youth worker with the knowledge and skills they need to help teens as best as they can. Because these articles are for people I know personally and meant for my own church and city context, they may not always be relevant to the wider public. However I put them here for anyone who might benefit from their content.

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[This is part 1 of a series summarizing the book “Hope and Healing For Kids Who Cut” by Marv Penner.]

Welcome to a world of hurt. Even though I am not that much older than the teens I work with, I must recognize that they are growing up in a much different world than the one I did at their age. The challenges they face are unique to any other generation. It is important as adults not to look down on students struggling with emotional issues. We have no idea what they are going through, until we take the time to listen.

Self-injury is just one of the many confusing and disturbing trends surfacing among the next generation. Most of us don’t understand it. Some of us are repulsed by it. But the truth is that teens need the presence of caring adults who will encourage them, listen to them, and support them as they face the challenges of everyday life. We must take their world – and self-injury – seriously, especially those of us in direct contact with young people.

A lot of adults are tempted to think that self-injury is really an uncommon occurrence that happens among only the most disturbed and troubled young people. Yet this is not the case. In the book, Marv says “The issue of self-injury has become increasingly visible in the world of adolescence and young adults in recent years…self-injury is going mainstream, and is likely to remain part of the cultural landscape for the foreseeable future. We can no longer pretend this is a fringe issue that occurs only in the most extreme cases.”

A 2006 study by Princeton and Cornell Universities found that 17% of the young people they surveyed (of 3,000) had self-injured at some point in their lifetime. Technically it is 1 in 5 girls and 1 in 7 guys. The numbers may have even gone up since then. It is highly likely that for every cutter identified, others remain hidden in the secret world of their addiction.

I say all this because as youth workers, we must take seriously the struggles of the teens we work with and seek to grow in our understanding of them and how to address them. It is not a matter of “if” you will come across this, but “when”. Therefore, we ought to do our best to be informed and ready so we can offer genuine help. After all, we are called by Jesus to show his love and compassion to a world so desperately in need of hope. The responsibility lies on our shoulders.

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