Digital self-harm with teens is a trend parents need to be concerned about. What is digital self-harm? It’s the “anonymous online posting, sending, or otherwise sharing of hurtful content about oneself.”
What motivates a teen to want bully or humiliate themselves online? Why are they seeking this negative attention?
In 2013 the tragic case of Hannah Smith, the 14-year-old that died by suicide after it was believed she was a victim of cyberbullying — only to find out it was digital self-harm she inflicted on to herself was devastating.
Although it’s still not fully understood, one study gives us some insights:
1. Social development: This is a test. Initially the teen might be wanting to test their friendships. For example, they may post ugly content or comments about themselves hoping to gauge the reaction of others.
They may also hope to prove their own resilience by demonstrating an ability to withstand bullying and hateful messages.
2. Personal gain: A teenager may be motivated by personal gain. For instance, feigning victimization may elicit sympathy and attention from fellow adolescents. Sometimes, the student just wants to generate a reaction that they find personally funny.
3. Emotion: Thirdly, teens may engage in this behavior as a manifestation of depressive symptoms. In other words, self-harm can act as a form of emotional release in response to poor mental health – akin to a coping mechanism.
The study also indicates that teens that engage in digital self-harm were more likely bullied offline or self-harm physically (cut or burn themselves) and are struggling with other mental health issues such as depression or possibly eating disorders. Even worse, research has also indicated a link between this digital self-harm and suicide.
Prevention of Teen Digital Self-Harm
Knowledge is a powerful tool, according to the study teens are less likely to engage in digital self-harm if they feel warm and communicative relationships with their parents. Maintaining open lines of communication to discuss emotions and their experiences online — especially if they are targets of cyberbullying, could prevent digital self-harm.
It’s important that parents educate themselves about digital self-harm and the signs of its presence. Similarly to being a victim of cyberbullying, some red flags could be:
- Drop in grades, failing
- Sadness, anxiety
- Gradual tension in the home
- Loss of interest in their hobbies or interests
- Avoiding friends
It’s also important to monitor your teen’s activity. There are software’s like BARK that help families manage and protect children’s lives. These services allow you to view activity, as well as block certain keywords or sites altogether. The ability to see what’s going on could prevent future harm. When safety trumps privacy — safety is always a priority.
If you do discover something concerning, or feel your teen is exhibiting symptoms of depression or self-harm, it’s important to remember there is help available. Seeking out professional services is in the best interest of your child’s mental health and future.