Understanding and Combatting Digital Self-Harm in Teens
Adolescence is a confusing time. The brain is still developing and social engagement/interactions play a large role in self-identity and everyday life. As a result of the increased amount of time spent on social media, a new form of destructive behavior is on the rise: digital self-harm.
What is digital self-harm?
Teens statistically are at a higher risk of engaging in self-harming behaviors. One such behavior that has been on the rise is digital self-harming or, "the anonymous or pseudonymous posting of hurtful or negative information about oneself on the internet and social media platforms," according to this 2020 study. Insecurity and self-esteem struggles manifest in adolescence quite a bit. As children become exposed to technology at a younger age, their identity becomes engrained in social media. They seek out followers and equate likes to self-worth. Teenagers may create a fake profile to post hateful comments on their own personal profile. Digital self-harm is a coping mechanism to process their self-deprecating feelings. This may be, your teen saying that they need help.
What causes this behavior?
The few studies on digital self-harm revealed that those who have been survivors of bullying in their past are more likely to engage in this type of behavior. The results also pointed to a communicative relationship with caregivers or supports as a deterrent of participating in digital-self harm. If children and teens feel comfortable to talk out their problems with their caregivers or a loved one, they are less likely to digitally self-harm.
The COVID-19 crisis may contribute to the emergence of digital self-harm. Many schools are following a hybrid model of learning or may be fully remote, meaning students are interacting with technology now more than ever with less in person interactions. Their social interactions have become confined to social media, which can contribute more to these negative self-statement and thoughts
How can I help?
The first step of addressing this behavior is to provide a safe space for open communication. Discuss difficult emotions they may be feeling. Ensure they're comfortable enough to come to you if they are experiencing any form of bullying from others. It's also integral that you track your child's internet activity. There are many spyware apps available that make accessing your child's activity much easier. You can block certain sites and place parental controls on your children's devices as well.
If you suspect that your child or teen may be engaging in digital self-harm, seeking professional help may be the next step. Get your child the mental health help they need to get through these tough times. Clinicians in Acenda's Counseling & Wellness Centers are here to help.
Call our main number at 844-4-ACENDA (844-422-3632 x9500) for more information or to schedule an appointment.