Self Harm In Teenagers
A: One in twelve teenagers will attempt some form of a self harm, according to a study published this week by British medical journal “The Lancet”. The study was contributed to by the Merck research institute in Melbourne. It also found that 10% of the teenagers will then continue to deliberately harm themselves into young adulthood.
Well, Sharon Witt is a teacher and a parent who’s written more than six books designed to help young people able to navigate adolescence and she’s recently finished a book designed for the parents of teenagers. And she joins us now from Melbourne.
Sharon, thanks very much
Sharon Witt: Good morning Andrew.
A: Good morning. Now, this study, let’s start with that. It’s quite alarming. As it just said, 1 in 12 young people, mostly girls, engage in self harming such as cutting, burning or taking life-threatening risks. This is certainly alarming. Is this a surprise to you?
Sharon Witt: Yeah, look, they are alarming statistics Andrew. And look, our girls are struggling, I mean, many young people are struggling with self harmony. In my 20 years experience as an educator, certainly the last five or six years I’ve seen more incidents of that occurring. You know, a lot of our girls are really struggling and they’re looking at ways of get self-medicating and getting through those tough times. And so for many of them self harm is one way. And we really need to help give them the toolbox, I guess, to help them find other ways of coping with this stress that they are experiencing in their teen years.
A: You talk about the stress, what sort of pressures do young girls face in Australia today?
Sharon Witt: Oh, look, I mean there are myriad of issues. I mean, one of those is body image. I mean, that is probably one of the biggest issues that I see young girls are facing. They are looking at a lot of toxic messages every single day. They’re bombarded in the media with images of how they are supposed to look, how they’re supposed to act, we really need to see the pop culture at the moment, and you know the Miley Cyrus’, Lindsey Lohans. We see these constantly and this is what our girls are fitting their selves against these unrealistic, air brushing happening, in advertising, in magazines. So, our girls are really struggling with what the benchmark is for perfection. And, so, yeah, there’s a lot of struggles with their body image.
A: And, also, of course, seeing the prevalence of social media that we see very high uses that form of media and the issue of cyber bullying. What sort of problem is there?
Sharon Witt: Yeah, look this is not just with girls but this is with boys as well. I mean, our teenagers are being raised as digital natives. I mean they are in cyber world over time. I mean, the first time I look at the computer was in university, you know. Now, our young people are born into this. And, so they are using these as a crutch really. And they are using these as part of their everyday lives. Their online network, their online world, is just as important as their real world for young people. There’s this phrase called FOMO, which is “fear of missing out” and our young people really are struggling with that. So you find that they are on these social networks all the time, 24/7. And, if they’re trying to sleep, they’ve got them next to them in their bedside table. So, I encourage the young people that I work with to actually turn off their social media at a certain time because a lot of young people are actually struggling to fall asleep and struggling to find really good sleeping habits, and I attribute a lot of these to the social media because they just aren’t able to switch off. And if they are engaging in social media right up until 10, 11 o’clock at night, and then wanting to switch off and go to sleep, they are finding it very very difficult.
A: Okay, Sharon, well, look, I got three daughters. I’ve got about six years until the first one hits, becomes a teenager. What advice you giving parents of teenagers today?
Sharon Witt: Okay, well, they say it takes a village to raise a child. Well in that case, I think, it takes an entire city to raise a teenager. So I think you need to draw on the actual community that you have. We are really lucky in our society now where we have so much great information out there and helpful advice. With young girls coming up into teenage-hood, I would make sure that I keep the lines of communication open, really know your child and when they enter their teenage years look for those sorts of warning signs that things they might be struggling. And just know that there are going to be times when they are really just wanting to explode, you know, it’s a really an emotional roller coaster going through those teen years. And just to be there, make sure you listen to them, make sure they’ve got support structures in place, make sure they’ve got a mentor, make sure they’re involved in sports or other sort of social activities that they can be engaged in. All those sort of things help our young people through their teen years.
A: Should they be friends or should they be parents?
Sharon Witt: I think they should be parents. Look, I think we want to be friends with our young people but there is a fine line between being friends or being the a friend-parent, which is one of the things I talk about in my new book the parenting styles, the buddy-buddy parent. And I think we need to remember first and foremost we’re the parent. We need to set those boundaries in place, and we need to make sure we’re there to reinforce those when needed.
A: Sharon Witt, thanks very much.
Sharon Witt: Thanks very much Andrew. Great to talk to you.
A: Well, if you or anyone you know would like to talk to someone about any of these issues we’ve just discussed, there are numbers of the hotline you can call. Lifeline lines can be reach 24 hours a day on 13 11 14, Mens-line is available on 1300 789 978, and the number for Kids Helpline is 1800 551 800.