Self-injurious behaviour

Self-injurious behaviour (SVV for short) describes behaviours in which sufferers intentionally inflict injuries on themselves. Common types of self-injury include scratching the skin on arms and legs with sharp objects or burns inflicted by cigarettes or candles.

Particularly on the social media platforms popular with young people, such as YouTube or Instagram images, videos or even text posts are frequently disseminated thatpropagate self-harming behaviour as "normal" or even present it as desirable.

The focus explains how young people can come across questionable content on the Internet in connection with self-harming behaviour and gives tips for action  for parents, educators and relatives of those affected.

Self-injurious behavior in the everyday life of adolescents

Studies show that self-injurious behaviour (SVV for short) is becoming increasingly common in the everyday lives of adolescents and young adults. The beginning of this behavior is usually at the age of 13 - 16 years. & nbsp;Puberty as an emotionally very tense phase is often a trigger. & nbsp;About 10% of adolescents over the age of 14 are said to have self-harmed at some time, about half of them repeatedly. Girls are affected more often than boys (Source: Petermann & Winkel (2007)).

SVV in adolescents is not a harmless fad or a negligible pubertal phase. It is to be seen as serious sign of a crisis-ridden development  . The behaviors also usually occur in conjunction with depression, suicidal thoughts or eating disorders  and can be an indication that a mental illness is present and clarification with the family doctor or an expert is necessary.

In adolescents, the actions are preceded by intense inner tension and stress. The behavior serves to reduce psychological tension, anger, anxiety and other depressive feelings. It initially brings short-term relief. After the act of self-harm, temporary positive feelings of control, calm, and relaxation occur. In the long term, however, the pressure to self-harm again increases as the real problems remain unresolved. & nbsp;SVV becomes an ongoing problem-solving strategy through the "positive" experience of inner relief and creates a kind of addiction: tension is followed by relaxation. A habituation takes place, which leads to more and more extreme self-injuries (deeper cuts, more extensive burns) in order to achieve the sought-after inner release of tension. The risk of unintentional serious injury is high.

Asa rule, the behaviour is not based on suicidal intentions. In the further course, however, suicidal thoughts may occur if the adolescents do not receive support.

Questionable content on social media

When scoring and burning are presented as normal behaviour

The presentation of self-injurious behavior has become a trend, especially in communities and video platforms popular with young people (Source: Brown, Fischer, Goldwich, Keller, Young & Plener (2018)). Of particular concern is content thatdenies SVV as a symptom of psychological problems and presents it as normal behaviour or problem solving. This includes in particular detailed discussions of methods and reports of experiences, i.e. descriptions of cutting techniques or tips on wound care, as well as pictures and videos of particularly deep or heavily bleeding wounds. If an SVV sufferer views drastic content, memories of their own negative feelings and experiences can arise, which in turn can trigger the urge to hurt themselves again. This effect is known as Trigger (English: "to trigger" = "to set off").

In social media offerings, one also repeatedly encounters profiles, videos, and images in which depictions of self-harm are combined with content from the suicide and/or eating disorders& nbsp; domains. The use of multiple hashtags brings up a whole range of extreme content in the search function of the services (Source: Ging & Garvey (2017)). The large overlap in suicide and self-harm content is particularly striking. Exposure to such content can trigger or reinforce risky behaviours in children and young people, if not encourage them to try out other types of risk.

Tips for parents

Tips on how to behave towards those affected

Parents should always talk openly with their children about their Internet behaviour and, if necessary, also about the topic of self-harm . As a general rule, the following applies: If you notice websites, profiles or groups on social media platforms with depictions that one-sidedly trivialise or even glorify self-harm, please always report them first to the platform's support (e.g. via the report function). & nbsp;The platform operators bear a great responsibility as providers of storage space for third-party content. They can contribute most quickly and effectively to making it difficult for children and young people to access this content.

If you suspect  self-injurious behaviour in your or a child, you should not assault himor her with appeals, demands or even coercion. First of all, it is quite normal to feel helpless and overwhelmed in such a situation. Keep calm and do not react with panic, accusations or threats. & nbsp;The person affected does not know how to deal with a certain inner stress in any other way than to hurt himself or herself. In doing so, however, he or she is also sending a clear appeal to the outside world.

Try toaddress the affected person directly. If there is a willingness to talk, you can ask what in life is so stressful that it is only bearable with self-harm, and what you can do to help process the problems in a less self-harming way. & nbsp;Make an effort to show alternatives to self-injurious behaviour.

If this is not possible, you do not have to remain idle. & nbsp;Share your observations with another person or colleague you trust. & nbsp;Think together about who could support you in this situation or who you should inform next.

Getprofessional support if possible . Adults in particular who are unsure how to assess the behaviour of children or young people involved and how best to address the situation should seek advice and help from appropriate counselling services if possible. Professional help in acute crisis situations can be found, for example, at school psychological counselling centres, in educational counselling centres or in girls' and women's clubs.

You can also have experts check content that is difficult to assess for its risk potential. For example, you can contact or or

Tips for dealing with acute risk situations

If the self-injurious behaviour is already very pronounced or seriously injurious, you should contact child and adolescent psychotherapists/psychiatrists. Collaboration with experienced professionals is essential for accurate diagnosis. In outpatient and inpatient child and adolescent psychiatry and psychotherapy you will find specialists for diagnosis, therapy, prevention and rehabilitation for self-injurious behaviour.

More tips

  • Establish a good and trusting contact with the child/adolescent,
  • accept as parents that, especially during puberty, other adults are more likely to be taken into the young person's confidence,
  • take self-harming behaviour seriously, as well as other indications and warning signs of danger,
  • talk openly about it,
  • avoid reproach or blame,
  • Offer physical closeness, make sure it is voluntary and do not force closeness,
  • give the affected person support, no matter what,
  • Do not issue prohibitions or punishments in connection with self-injurious behaviour - withdrawal of love or beatings and other physical punishments are out of place,
  • Providing bandages and disinfectants for wound care and ointments for scar care is more useful than collecting razor blades and knives and throwing them away,
  • patient and attentive listening..,
  • asking specifically about suicidal thoughts - the worry that this will stimulate suicidal impulses is unfounded,
  • also talk about their own problems and fears in connection with self-injurious behaviour,
  • convey confidence that help is available, even if the person affected initially reacts defensively,
  • inform themselves comprehensively about self-injurious behaviour (books, Internet, exchange with affected persons),
  • referral to professional help,
  • Be aware of the limits of your own efforts to help, i.e. offer limited, reliable help rather than making promises that lead to disappointment,
  • seeking help yourself if you notice that you feel bad or feel increasingly paralysed in your normal activities.

  • ignoring, denying,
  • fearful avoidance of the subject - this reinforces the already existing feelings of shame and guilt in young people,
  • taking away or hiding sharp objects..,
  • accusations,
  • giving ultimatums,
  • making promises you can't keep ("I'll always be there for you, day and night"),
  • disregarding one's own boundaries.

Children and young people have a right to digital participation in society. & nbsp;Young users should be able to use online services in a self-determined, critical and creative way, but above all without any worries. This requires a contemporary protection of minors with regulatory, technical and educational components. While younger children need more protection, greater freedoms and competencies for self-protection become more important as they grow older. In addition, parents and educational professionals need tips and practical assistance for media education.

It is important that parents actively accompany their children on the Internet, know where their child is communicating with whom, which topics, services and apps are currently in vogue and have an open ear in case of problems. In this way, parents can counteract at an early stage if their child gets into an unsuitable online environment. & nbsp; Ifparents strengthen their child's self-confidence and media skills, it is easier for them to distance themselves from dangerous content and people. & nbsp;In general, it is advisable for parents to advise their teenage child to carefully check web offers, forums, but also profiles of groups and individual users as well as friend requests.