What You Should Know About Adolescent Cutting

Recent studies have found that one-third to one-half of adolescents in the US have engaged in some type of self-injurious behavior.

Cutting is a terrifying and serious epidemic plaguing adolescents. Recent studies have found that one-third to one-half of adolescents in the US have engaged in some type of self-injurious behavior.
As a psychotherapist who specializes in treating teens who self-harm, I have been baffled by this for years. This act of mutilation makes no sense. After all, youth is fleeting and adults are desperate to maintain their health and vitality, so why do the young intentionally compromise their own?  
Three phenomenon help explain why an adolescent is compelled to cut. The first is developmental. An adolescent’s brain chemistry is drastically different, causing them to be far more impulsive.  Also, because of the massive changes in hormones and with their bodies, the adolescent is often uncomfortable in their own skin.
Moreover, because they are attempting to figure out who they are in relationship to the world (identity formation), acceptance from their peers becomes a primary need. If there is rejection, it feels as if the world is ending.
Secondly,  an adolescent is more vulnerable to the anxiety that proceeds self-harm due to a decrease in outside time. In the past four decades, nature-based activities have decreased by forty percent. The average adolescent spends eight hours a day staring at a screen. This is problematic because research indicates that being in nature increases serotonin levels, reduces blood pressure, and lessens the symptoms of ADD and anxiety in children and adolescents.
Lastly, free play, which systematically helps a child master anxiety by providing a continuous feeling of control, as well as the chance to be creative and work out inner conflicts, has largely diminished in young people’s lives. Because the world is increasingly competitive, children and adolescents spend a great deal of time participating in structured activities that involve achievement – and less time playing.  
The collective research shows a  devastating impact on their ability to mitigate anxiety and depression due to the drastic decrease in free play. Statistics show the suicide rates of teens and adolescents doubling over the past several decades and steadily increasing.
Essentially, the activities that, in the past, allowed children and adolescents the opportunities to reduce their anxiety have diminished from their current routines. Top it off with the developmental difficulties of adolescence, and the perfect storm begins to brew. So, how can a parent help their teen metabolize their anxiety so they do not reach the point of wanting to hurt themselves?
It is of paramount importance to re-establish the closeness in the relationship. Research shows that adolescents who have a close relationship with their parent are less anxious and depressed. So, listen empathically to her. Refrain from telling her not to feel the way she does, but instead, honor her hurt. Let her know you understand and that she is not alone.
A second useful tool is to help her reinstate a healthy mind and body connection. There is increasing evidence to support the role of the mind and body connection in reducing anxiety and depression. This can be extremely helpful and healing for an adolescent whose changing body feels foreign to them. Activities that reconnect the mind and body allow the adolescent to feel whole, grounded, centered, and soothed.
Traditional Eastern activities such as yoga and martial arts have become popular because these are the activities which help us maintain a healthy mind and body connection. Participation in sports and the arts are also activities that strengthen the mind and body connection. Essentially, any activity that the mind and the body intricately collaborate on is a mind and body activity.
It is important to note that when anxiety and depression intensify, the mind and body are out of sync. They are disconnected. Psychosomatic symptoms, sleep issues, eating issues, body image issues, and the compulsion to cut become prevalent. In most of the interviews conducted with adolescents, they report “cutting is the only relief” because it provides an escape from their emotional pain.
In fact, the majority of adolescents report they don’t feel the first cut. Some report feeling nothing until the second or third laceration. This signifies the distance between the mind and the body it takes a moment for the mind to return to the body. Yet, when the sensation of physical pain washes over them, the adolescent feels instant relief because they have forced their mind back to their body through the experience of physical pain.
The mind reconnects with their body through the sensation of physical pain. The pain is real and it anchors the mind and body for a moment. Their mind and body feel the pain together. They are united for an instant which is what provides the feeling of relief.
Unfortunately, self-harm is a temporary and unsafe solution. As soon as the pain fades, so does the feeling of relief. It is also extremely dangerous and can be deadly if things go awry. Yet, for some adolescents, it is the only escape. The only relief. Like a drug, it becomes obsessional. Also like a drug, the shame and remorse that follow the act are unbearable. Thus, the cycle perpetuates itself. The shame and pain become intense and the only escape feels like cutting again. Thus, It is necessary to prevent the cycle from even beginning.
Prevention starts with the parent. Be empathic and get close. Help your child facilitate a healthy mind and body connection. Invite them to yoga class or martial arts class. Go for a hike or ask them to paint or sculpt with you. Meditate. Ride bikes. Hug. Listen. Love.

10 Books to Help Your Child Understand Politics

Here are ten books about our government, policies, and leaders, for children of all ages, that can help get the conversation about politics started.

Today’s children are destined to become tomorrow’s leaders, and although election season is behind us, there is no better time to help your child understand the dynamics of our political world than now. Children’s literature provides a safe, imaginative space for young minds to learn about complex issues, including politics.
Here are ten books about our government, policies, and leaders, for children of all ages, that can help get the conversation started:
duckforpresident

Duck for President

by Doreen Cronin

Preschoolers who dream of becoming president one day will love this picture book from Doreen Cronin. Duck is not too pleased with how things are going on the farm, so he campaigns and beats the farmer by a landslide in the barnyard election. But leading the farm is a lot of work, so Duck decides to run for governor. He finds overseeing the state equally as tiring. When he finally ends up in the White House, he realizes that being president isn’t as joyful as he thought it would be. Politics requires quacks of effort and time. Much more than he ever imagined. Does he stick it out or go back to the pond?
Leading the farm is a lot of work, so Duck decides to run for governor. He finds overseeing the state equally as tiring. When he finally ends up in the White House, he realizes that being president isn’t as joyful as he thought it would be. Politics requires quacks of effort and time. Much more than he ever imagined. Does he stick it out or go back to the pond?

thislittlepresident

This Little President: A Presidential Primer

by Joan Holub

Little ones can learn all about the United States presidents with this fun and collaborative board book featuring memorable rhymes and caricatures. Across its colorful pages are ten of America’s most memorable commanders-in-chief including George Washington and John Adams, among others. As one reviewer said, “Thanks to this appealing primer, the presidents have quickly entered the family lexicon. This was a fantastic way to explain what was happening, talk about the structure and functions of our government, and introduce them to abstract concepts like history, representation, accountability, public service, legacy, duty, and respecting differences.”
As one reviewer said, “Thanks to this appealing primer, the presidents have quickly entered the family lexicon. This was a fantastic way to explain what was happening, talk about the structure and functions of our government, and introduce them to abstract concepts like history, representation, accountability, public service, legacy, duty, and respecting differences.”

aisforactivist

A is for Activist

by Innosanto Nagara

“A is for Activist” is the perfect little board book with a powerful message about activism, environmental justice, equality, and civil rights. The book is ideal for parents to explore and share their values with their children. Full of vibrant illustrations and witty prose, “A is for Activist” will spark a sense of civic pride in young readers.

thebutterbattle

The Butter Battle Book

by Dr. Seuss

“The Butter Battle Book” was first published in 1984, during the latter part of the Cold War of the mid-1980s. In true form, Dr. Seuss tackles a universal and evergreen social issue, in this case, intolerance, and spins it into fun, enlightening terms that every kid can understand. He details the plight between the Yooks and the Zooks, as tension mounts between the feuding sides. Can they amicably settle their “governmental” differences without destroying the world?

americaapatrioticprimer

America: A Patriotic Primer

by Lynne Cheney

Written by Lynne Cheney, wife of former Vice President Richard Cheney, “America: A Patriotic Primer” celebrates the individuals, events, and principals that framed our great nation. Each entry features a letter of the alphabet along with a featured person, place, or concept such as “T is for Tolerance” and “U is for United States.” Ink, watercolor washes, and colored-pencil illustrations will capture a child’s attention as they learn a variety of important historical lessons.

oftheeising

Of Thee I Sing: A Letter to My Daughters

by Barack Obama

“In characteristically measured prose, the 44th President introduces 13 American icons and heroes as exemplars of personal virtues, from Georgia O’Keeffe (creativity) and Jackie Robinson (courage) to Helen Keller (strength) and Cesar Chavez (inspiration),” says School Library Journal. Written as a tribute to his daughters, President Barack Obama pens a poignant, heartfelt letter of praise and recognition—inspiring all children to think how they can make a positive contribution to society.

idissent

I Dissent: Ruth Bader Ginsburg Makes Her Mark

by Debbie Levy

Ruth Bader Ginsburg is an important political figure who symbolizes the words “justice” and “truth.” “I Dissent” serves as a great introduction to our Supreme Court, highlighting the journey and accomplishments of Justice Ginsburg – one of only four women ever appointed to the highest court in our nation. “The writing is appropriately succinct for its intended audience and is nicely complemented by Baddeley’s richly illustrated cartoonish drawings. The use of colorful and bold typography to highlight words such as protest, object, dissent, disagree, and agree injects life into the work,” says School Library Journal.

thesmithsonianbookofpresidential

The Smithsonian Book of Presidential Trivia

by the Smithsonian Institution

Brought to life by the Smithsonian Institution,” here is a fun and insightful look at every U.S. president to date. Fully updated for 2017, “The Smithsonian Book of Presidential Trivia” peeks at the lives, hobbies, careers, homes, deaths, and everything in between of our nation’s highest officeholders – from the quintessential Washington to the controversial Trump. The tidbits on each president will surprise, humor, and enlighten any reader.

the us constitution

The United States Constitution: What It Says, What It Means

by JusticeLearning.org

With an introduction written by Caroline Kennedy and an afterword by David Eisenhower, this handy pocket guide to the U.S. Constitution breaks down our country’s most important document into clear, understandable terms. A suitable read for both middle and high-school aged children.

1984

by George Orwell

The only book on the list meant specifically for older teens and young adults, “1984,” written in 1948, was George Orwell’s chilling prophecy about the future. “Newspeak, doublethink, thoughtcrime – in ‘1984’ Orwell created a whole vocabulary of words concerning totalitarian control that have since passed into our common vocabulary. More importantly, he has portrayed a chillingly credible dystopia,” says one Amazon Reviewer.
Which books about politics have you read with your child? Share in the comments!


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Embrace the Stink: Lessons From a Decade of Motherhood

Ten years and four babies and two houses and one marriage and so many small gains and a new job and always, like a constant backdrop – everything changing.

I was tired when I gave the baby his bath the other night, and for a while I just watched him play in the hips-high water. When the water had started to cool and I couldn’t sit any longer, I washed him with the baby shampoo that smells like optimism and his curls straightened out and stretched longer down his back than they ever had. He’s growing so fast.
I let the lines blur for a second and it was a decade before and I was washing his brother, my oldest, in the kitchen sink of our first house. I would bathe him after the pots and pans from dinner had been rinsed and dried. Even though I was tired and my feet hurt from standing on the cold hardwood, I looked forward to it.
There was that moment, after he was wrapped in a towel, and smelled just like that same shampoo. When his own wet curls would stick to the soft place at the back of his neck, and his absurdly long eyelashes would clump together and brush against his cheeks as his eyes drifted towards closing.
For a few minutes every night of that first year of parenthood, I held my baby and I thought: maybe I can do this.
I would put him to bed and he would scream and the tension would sweep back into my shoulders like a hot wave and I knew: I. Couldn’t. Possibly. Do. This.  
My husband and I would lock eyes – half allies in this war, half enemies – each of us hoping the other would get up. Eventually, someone would, and the other one would a little while after that, and it went on like that for nights into weeks into years. 
All of a sudden a decade had gone by in the blink of an eye and it was this new little one in the bathtub and I had done it, or at least was doing it, with four babies, all alive, and well (so far) and sometimes even relatively clean.
My lovely sister-in-law texted me last week: “Random thought: we have been mothers for ten years.

Ten years a Mom 

It’s still so hard so much of the time. I’m not sure it is ever as hard as it was then, that first year when remnants of my old life hung freshly around the edges of my new one the way the curls hung down his neck.
I was in my 20s and no longer a child, but very far away from feeling like an adult. If you had told me one day I would be a decade older and bathing my fourth baby I would have laughed right in your face.
Later my firstborn, now ten years old, sat close to me on the couch. I bent my head to him, as I have been doing for a decade, inhaled deeply, and HE SMELLED. Not of optimism and baby shampoo, but of stank, of sweat and armpit and boy. “You stink!” I said to him, a little too loud.
His response was a wide grin. Proud of his body for growing and changing and learning to make man-stink. But to me, it felt like too much, all this change. He grew so much this year – an inch per month – that I wondered if I watched him sleep close enough, could I see it happening?
Or was it imperceptible, creeping up on you, the way the gravity of those words had: “We have been mothers for ten years.”
Ten years and four babies and two houses and one marriage and so many small gains and a new job and the writing and always, like a constant backdrop – everything changing. I wondered aloud to a friend, “What if I looked at it like my boy did?”
What if I delighted in the mystery of my body as it gets older too? I pictured myself in front of  the bathroom mirror, delighting in finding a new chin hair or laugh line.  
It’s not that bad, though. Where I am. My mid-30s feel like the Goldilocks of ages – not too hot, not too cold – tepid like the bath water that swirls around the baby’s hips.
My older kids are old enough to constantly awe me with their maturity, and my younger kids keep me real and grounded with their need. There’s always someone to lay next to me in bed, and no one is old enough yet to truly hate me.
I’m comfortable(ish) with who I am and it’s easier to get out of bed in the morning. I can party like a teenager if I really want to, but I’m smart enough most of the time to know that if I do, I will feel like an elderly person for a week afterward.
I’m old enough now, even, to feel motherly towards that old me, ten years ago, asleep on her feet on the hardwood. I want to hug her, make her some tea, pour her a bath. Mostly, I want to tell her that all those unassuming well-wishers who tell her that it goes by in the blink of an eye are actually right, and while in that moment it may feel like one particular high-pitched infant scream has already lasted an eternity and time is standing still and this will never end, trust me, it will.
In fact, ten years a mom and you start to get panicky with the rushing by of it all, trying and trying to carpe your diem and watching still as the time slips arrogantly through your clenched fingers. 
Then, yesterday, the baby had a fever.  I went to the drugstore to buy what might be our last bottle of infant Tylenol, and walking to the register I passed the deodorant aisle and remembered: my oldest is stinky now.  I stood there, frozen like a mama-deer in headlights, for ten minutes.
I opened caps, I inhaled too many manly man-smells, musky and heady and laden with innuendo. There was Old Spice and Axe but there was nothing for my sweet boy, only 10. My choices, apparently, were sexy-man pits or sweaty-boy stink.
Eventually, I left, with my infant Tylenol clutched in both hands like it was communion, but without the deodorant.
Just for last night, I chose the sweaty-boy stink.
He’ll be a man soon enough, I thought. Tonight, I’m carpe-ing my diem.