EdNews Parent expert Steve Sarche responds:
Q. My teenage daughter has learned some disturbing information about her close friend. It seems this friend has been cutting herself. My daughter is worried, but doesn’t want to violate her friend’s trust. I want to call the girl’s mother, but I don’t know how to approach it. Tips?
A. Cutting is unfortunately a very common problem for teenagers. Most of the time, kids engage in cutting as a way to cope with strong emotions such as sadness and anger, or for attention. It is usually not an actual attempt at suicide. Despite this, cutting can be very dangerous and can cause severe scarring or disfigurement.
The best bet here is to thank your daughter for telling you, to show that you admire her honesty. Do not show fear or shock or alarm. It is best to have a calm conversation about it. Ask your daughter what she thinks she should do. Listen “actively”. In other words, make sure you understand what she has to say without showing any judgment of it.
Next, give your input as a recommendation or a “here’s what I might do” instead of a “here’s what you need or should do”. My feeling is that cutting is never good and it is never good to ignore the behavior in a friend. I would let your daughter know that and suggest that your daughter tell her friend how concerned she is and offer the opportunity for her friend to talk to her about anything.
Finally, I would tell your daughter that if she sees the behavior continue it is important to alert her friend’s parents. Suggest that your daughter talk to her friend about the best way to alert her parents.
In the end, this transaction could jeopardize the friendship, and you should talk to your daughter about this possible outcome as well. Still, it’s important to ask your daughter which is the better: to let the behavior continue and risk worsening problems for her friend, or to help her friend stop a dangerous behavior and get the help she needs.
There are also resources your daughter could give her friend including 1-800-dontcut and To Write Love on Her Arms.
Ultimately, if the situation is worrisome enough, you may decide to tell the friends’ parents yourself. I always say that it is better to make somebody mad at you than not have them around. Most kids, after being angry about being “outed”, are thankful down the road that they got help.
About our First Person series:
First Person is where Chalkbeat features personal essays by educators, students, parents, and others trying to improve public education. Read our submission guidelines here.