Youth, Cutting and the Family

From the January 2007 Trumpet Print Edition

An astonishing number of teens and young adults are performing a shocking form of self-inflicted brutality: cutting. Numbers are hard to pin down, but studies show as many as 10 percent of teenage girls in England and 17 percent of college students at Cornell and Princeton in the United States are involved in some form of self-injury (Medical News Today, Aug. 26, 2006).

Why are youths doing this? Health officials call it an unhealthy coping mechanism—a misguided attempt to seek release from life’s pressures. The cause is often a feeling of isolation, being left out. The nhs Health Encyclopedia explains, “People who self-harm often describe feelings of numbness or deadness or they may feel detached from reality, as if they are not part of the world.”

Why do these teens feel this way?

God intended family to be the main support for young people as they grow. The biblical model is one of parents being deeply involved in their children’s lives—loving, instructing and disciplining in love (e.g. Deuteronomy 6:6-7; Luke 15:11-31; Ephesians 6:4); and at the same time, children honoring and obeying their parents (Ephesians 6:1-2).

Western culture, by stark contrast, barrages us with anti-family messages. In far too many cases, materialism, independence, personal privacy, moral relativism and other values that saturate modern life all take precedence over family. Parents prioritize careers or personal pursuits over family, and children feel increasingly ostracized from their families as they enter teenagehood. As one cutter reasoned, “I didn’t want to burden my mom with my problems.”

While cutting is a sign of a violent force in society, it is also a powerful symptom of an ailing family life.