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In this episode, we talk to Shannon Herman, a Licensed Professional Counselor, about self-harm, how to recognize the signs and how to respond to a teen who self-injures. While this can be a heavy and sometimes upsetting topic, we need to be able to have conversations about self-harm to better equip teenagers with different coping skills. Take a deep breath and don’t panic about self-harm…you’ve got this!
In this episode, you’ll find out…
- Several types of self-harming behaviors seen among teenagers.
- What ages and genders engage in self-injurious behaviors.
- Some presenting issues and warning signs behind self-harm (hint: it’s not always the cat!)
- The importance of confronting a self-harming teenager.
- Some positive ways to react to self-injurious behavior.
- What steps to take after discovering self-harming behaviors.
- Am I paying attention to warning signs and behavior changes?
- How would I react if a teen revealed self-injurious marks to me?
- Am I listening? Am I available?
Go ask a teen…
- What triggers you to self-harm? What do you have on your mind right before you do that?
- What do you hope the end result will be when you are self-injuring?
- Can I see the places where you have hurt yourself?
In this episode, we mentioned the following resources:
Shannon Herman has been in private practice in the Dallas-Fort Worth area for over four years as a Licensed Professional Counselor. Her focus is on issues related to adult and adolescent women such as: eating disorders, body image concerns, depression, anxiety/stress management and low-self esteem. As a mom of 2 girls and wife of a Youth Minister, Shannon is dedicated to motivating and empowering clients to stimulate change within their life. Find her website here!
Chris Robey is the Program Director for Teen Lifeline, Inc. Earlier in his career while working as a youth minister, Chris earned a Masters Degree in Family Life Education from Lubbock Christian University to better equip his work with teenagers and families. Chris’ career and educational opportunities have exposed him to teenagers from a variety of backgrounds. Follow him on Twitter!
Karlie Duke started working as Teen Lifeline’s Communications Director after graduating from Abilene Christian University with a degree in Communications with a minor in Family Studies. Karlie has worked with teenagers for the past 5 years and is passionate about encouraging students to live better stories. Follow her on Twitter or Instagram!
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I have worked with teenagers now for over a decade. In that time, there have been significant changes in environment, social interaction, and educational expectations, but one thing has remained. Teenagers generally don’t feel they can talk to their parents.
I’m coming from a place where I sit in groups with teenagers who are strangers to me and within 30 minutes of talking to them can get them to share who the most important person in their life is and why. I’m writing this not as the parent of a teen but as someone who works with teens, so this is also for any youth worker that wants their conversation to get better. I’m hopeful that this helps you, and I’m also hopeful it helps me as I start to create an environment for conversation with my elementary school kids that will carry into their teen years – because we all know if I wait, it’ll only get harder.
In fact, today I was sitting in a group that has been meeting sporadically for about 12 weeks. One of the students brought up the difficulty she is having talking to her dad. There are lots of things involved with this situation, but I believe if her dad read these tips, he could learn so much more about his own daughter.
With that in mind here are the tips I have found to be helpful, and I hope you can apply to your relationship with your teen as well.
As a parent, it is difficult not to fill the silence. Resist this urge. In our training for group facilitators, we teach that counting to at least 10 (counting to 30 is better) when silence begins can help us wait long enough before assuming the other person is done talking. With kids, they are often just processing out loud, something most adults have decided needs to be internally. For them, it is normal to say out loud what they are thinking because they are trying it out. Let them. The fact is, they will become uncomfortable too and will likely say something else to fill the silence.
Deciding at the beginning of a conversation this is about them, puts you in a position of listening rather then looking for what is wrong and correcting, or even worse, that there is a problem when none actually exists. Listen just to hear, listen to learn, listen to be able to repeat back. Make an intentional decision to not be thinking about how to answer or how to tell them what they should be thinking or doing instead. There is a stage of life for that, but it should mainly apply to kids under 9 years old.
Ask great questions.
You can decide to do the others, but asking good questions is a skill – asking questions that invite more information, that don’t put them on the defensive and that show empathy are key and vital to getting the most out of your teen. Here are some suggestions to get you thinking:
- What bothered you about feeling that way?
- Have you ever thought that before?
- What do you think will happen if you do that?
- How do you think this might affect your future (or those around you)?
These are just some ideas to get you thinking, but the point here is to ask open-ended, inviting questions without making assumptions or projecting your bias onto the student you are working with.
Don’t correct unless safety is a concern.
This is so hard because we as parents tend to think that this is our full time job, or maybe that’s just me. It is easy to feel that if we don’t correct or advise in a situation with a kid, we are depriving them of a learning opportunity or wasting a teachable moment. What if the teachable moment happened without us saying anything? As I mentioned above, at this age, kids are trying things out. Allowing this in a safe way actually helps them learn better.
Here’s how I would suggest using this…
Simply decide to allow a whole conversation to happen without correcting, unless it is something dangerous. It will be hard, but do it. Decide to do this on a regular basis, but you have to realize how often that makes sense – once a week, twice a month, 5 days a week. Whatever it is, allow your conversation to be driven by your child or the teen you’re working with without any advice or correcting on your part (don’t worry too much, the odds of having the same conversation again are good). The value you will gain by doing this will open doors you never knew existed as they feel more comfortable sharing because they won’t feel so judged.
Create a safe environment.
One of the best things I have ever heard was a story about a father who told his kids that the old truck sitting out by the barn that didn’t run was a “safe zone.” It was the one place they could have conversations and tell him anything without any punishment. Consequences sometimes are unavoidable but he committed to no punishment. They knew that anytime they needed to tell something they feared they would be grounded for or worse, their cell phone would get taken away, they could tell him in that old truck.
You can do this too. Declare a safe zone in or around your house. At our house, right now, it is simply that my kids can tell me, “I need to tell you something but I don’t want to get in trouble for it.” I have given them permission to share anything because I would rather be in the loop than be seen as the enemy when it comes to decisions that affect character and life lessons my kids experience.
Reassure them about everything.
This is an extension of the listening tip. If you really are listening, you will hear opportunities to come back to and reassure them that you are there for them. A simple recognition of their interest or a question about a relationship they told you about can help them know that you truly care. This isn’t about you, so you can’t measure this based on how many times you think is enough. You have to keep reassuring until they tell you to stop or until that season has passed and it is no longer an issue.
If you work with teens, knowing how to get more out of conversations is vital to their success. Maybe you have some better ideas. Take a minute to share them below. We love hearing from you and learning together.
We are less than 9 weeks away from our 7th annual #TL5K! In order to celebrate our biggest fundraiser of the year and bring awareness to what actually happens through Teen Lifeline Support Groups, we are going to release a bonus blog once a week until our 5K on April 2nd! These blogs will be a small glimpse into the stories of teenagers we work with and some of the facilitators who make these groups possible.
We are passionate about these groups because we get to see the faces, hear the stories and speak truth every single week. If you are just now getting introduced to Teen Lifeline or are wanting to know more about how we are helping teenagers live life better, these stories over the next 9 weeks are going to be a great way to take a behind-the-scenes peek at our non-profit.
I often get asked about our support groups and what a successful group looks like. You have no idea how tricky that question is…what does the perfect family look like? What are the characteristics of a perfect classroom? These questions are impossible to answer because…it depends.
It depends on the situation, the group of students, the needs of the group and the end-goal. Every single one of my groups is different, but one is not necessarily more successful than the others; however, there is one group in particular that comes to mind when I think of facilitating these support groups.
Last year, I was able to lead a middle school support group at an alternative campus (these are students who have been moved from there campus for one disciplinary reason or another). This being the first group I had ever led, I was nervous and a little (or a lot) anxious. I wondered how I would relate to these young trouble makers, if they would actually talk to me and how I would get them to connect with each other when they were more worried about video games and which boy liked them that week. Through the course of a school year, I saw over 36 middle schoolers in group, some that stayed with me for several months and some who were only there a couple of weeks.
In one particular group, we were talking about stress (by playing with play-doh, of course!), and one of the girls brought up her situation living in foster care. She talked about the stress of moving through different foster homes and new “siblings” that she was trying to get along with.
In this same group, I had a boy who sweet, brilliant, and very shy. He rarely spoke up in group, but as his peer talked about her fears and anxiety about home life, he stopped her and asked, “Are you okay? Do they ever hurt you?” He cut right to he chase (which made me a little nervous), but showed empathy in a way that was surprising for a middle schooler. Without me saying a word, these two started a conversation about getting help if she didn’t feel safe and how to deal with difficult family members. Even though I was the group facilitator, these two guided our group through discussion around dealing with stress and how to positively react when you are put in negative situations.
If I had to pick one thing, that would be my favorite characteristic of a successful group – when they reach out and encourage one another. Finding a connecting point with peers is huge, especially if you feel like you are on an island all by yourself. Our groups empower teenagers to seek out these relationships and let them know that they are not the only ones dealing with junk.
I am so thankful that I work for a ministry that allows these types of conversations to happen. A ministry that equips students to deal with stressful situations, encourages teens to open up and seek relationships, and empowers them to live their best life possible.