Ask The Source

Do you have any insight on teen “cutting” from a youth culture perspective?

Dear The Source:
ÒI am hearing more and more teens are into cutting themselves as part of the “Emo” fad going on. Obviously, cutting is not cool from my view point, but several of my students know kids who are into it. Do you have any insight on this activity from a youth culture perspective?Ó


Dear Michael,

My name is David R. Smith and I help manage resources and questions for The Source for Youth Ministry. I just received your email about Òcutting,Ó and wanted to offer a few thoughts.

First, let me say that Òcutting,Ó or self-injury (as itÕs known in medical circles) is not something new. For several years, teenagers who internalize their pain (for various and/or multiple reasons) have begun to cut themselves. Those same kids were stereotyped as being overly emotional, hence the title ÒEmo.Ó

Some of the more popular forms of self-injury include, cutting with a knife or razor to the point of bleeding, and also using a lit cigarette or cigarette lighter to make burn wound. While this is not exclusive to girls only, by far, more girls self-injure than guys. Nor is cutting relegated to young people. Some adults cut themselves, as well.

Telling signs of cutting might include abnormal scars or marks on a personÕs wrists, arms, legs, thighs, and stomach. Sometimes the person will wear long sleeves and/or pants to cover up the marksÉeven in warm weather.

There are several reasons why teens choose to cut, but they can Ð to a large extent Ð be reduced to a cry for help. Some students cut to try and cope with the pain affiliated with raw emotions, growing pressure, high stress levels, or dissolving relationships. Not knowing how to navigate many of these real life issues, many teens turn to what they do Òknow how to do,Ó even though it is very dangerous.

Try and follow their Òpsychology.Ó

  1. I hurt. (for whatever reasons)

  2. I canÕt tell this to you, even though itÕs real. (You wonÕt listenÉI donÕt know how to tell youÉyou will judge meÉI donÕt trust youÉand many other reasons)

  3. I will hurt myself to give a voice to my pain. (maybe in the ways mentioned above)

  4. (After the self-injury) I feel relieved because I have expressed myself, finally.

Typically, when students cut themselves, what they are in essence doing is allowing their inner pain to be evidenced in their marking, scars, or wounds. Their scars are intended to say, ÒDonÕt you see I need to talk?!Ó The irony is, sometimes the scars are covered to keep from being exposed.

Michael, I think this is definitely a great reason for youth workers to be focused on relational ministry with our teenagers. If our teens truly sensed that they were in a trusting and strong relationship, the barrier to communication might not propagate the self-injury. Check out our Connect workshop and seminar on the subject of building and capitalizing on godly relationships with teenagers.

Also, you might want to check out This is the website dedicated to the story and facts behind the ÒTo Write Love On Her Arms,Ó campaign that fights the prevalence of self-injuring teens.

I hope this helps.


David R. Smith
Resource Development
The Source for Youth Ministry


Jonathan McKee

Jonathan McKee is the author of over twenty books including the brand new The Guy's Guide to FOUR BATTLES Every Young Man Must Face; The Teen’s Guide to Social Media & Mobile Devices; If I Had a Parenting Do Over; and the Amazon Best Seller - The Guy's Guide to God, Girls and the Phone in Your Pocket. He speaks to parents and leaders worldwide, all while providing free resources for youth workers on Jonathan, his wife Lori, and their three kids live in California.

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