It’s no secret that teenagers experience strong emotions. As a parent, it can sometimes feel like watching like a rollercoaster of anger, sadness, indignation, happiness, depression, and frustration that never stops. Strong emotions can be difficult to manage and learning healthy coping mechanisms is an important part of growing up. However, teens can sometimes turn to unhealthy coping mechanisms when they feel overwhelmed. This includes a teenager that is hurting themself when they are angry.
They are probably not doing it for attention.
The common misconception is that a teenager is hurting themselves for attention. This is almost never the case. However, even if this was just a cry for attention it is important to find out why they feel like they need to hurt themselves to get attention. A perfectly happy, healthy teenager isn’t going to choose to hurt themselves to get the attention of their parents or teachers.
It is probably a response to feeling helpless.
Teenagers usually turn to hurting themselves in response to strong emotions when they feel helpless. A teenager that feels intense anger but has no outlet for that anger will turn it on the only thing they have control over: themselves. Facing a situation that is difficult but that they cannot change will create a feeling of helplessness. This can include a range of things from a death in the family, the divorce of their parents, problems at school or with friends, or from some past trauma.
It is important that a teenager feels a sense of agency.
All people need to feel like they have control over their lives to some degree or another. Children and teenagers often have difficulty with this because so much of their lives is controlled by others. They do not decide whether they go to school or not. They probably have limited to no input on what subjects they are studying. They often do not have much if any input on what they eat. They are probably limited in what clothes they are allowed to wear. They have further limitations on their hobbies and their social lives. It is not a bad thing that these rules are in place, but they need some area in their lives that they feel like they can control. Giving children and teenagers some control over their own lives appropriate for their age and maturity levels will help them to learn responsibility as well as giving them a sense of agency.
Unhealthy coping mechanisms should not be ignored.
Some people might give the advice to ignore a teenager when they act out by hurting themselves. They say by paying attention to the problem that you are only making it worse. This is not true. This behavior will only get worse if it is ignored and may lead to them causing lasting, permanent harm to themselves. A teen that has resorted to harming themselves because they feel like they are helpless needs help. You should seek out professional help from a counselor or therapist.
This could be a sign of a more serious underlying problem.
A teenager that has difficulty managing their anger may have underlying mental health issues such as anxiety, depression, ADHD, or bipolar disorder. Emotional regulation can be difficult for most teenagers, but bubbling over into violence is not normal and should not be treated as normal. When most people think of depression, they do not think of episodes of explosive anger and frustration. However, this is not an uncommon symptom of depression especially in men who are more likely to express their unhappy feelings as anger. Emotional regulation can also be difficult for people that suffer from anxiety or ADHD. If this is a new or worsening symptom, seek out help from a medical professional that can do a mental health screening.