Digital Self Harm

[Source: Internet Matters]

Since children virtually live online, we are beginning to see a worrying trend known as “digital self-harm”.  It has all the hallmarks of self-harm in that the person who enacts it is in a state of high emotion distress and inner turmoil, feeling isolated, powerless and out of control. But rather than seeking out a blade they turn to the online world to invite others to cut through them emotionally.


This is such a new phenomenon that in the few meetings that I have been with colleagues there is no real consensus on what we are seeing but a few themes that I think are relevant include:


Acknowledgement of pain:it’s important that one’s pain is seen as this make it feel real and therefore worthy of attention- this is also the case with physical self-harm, where the ability to see the pain is containing, comforting and makes it more real/ manageable.


A need to assert control:feelings aren’t facts but that doesn’t stop us from wanting to make sense of the negative feelings that we hold about ourselves – as a consequence the vitriol that one invites from the online world may be an attempt to make sense of the painful emotions they feel.


An attempt to be listened to:even if those listening are being negative and cruel, the fact that someone is listening can paradoxically be of comfort.


What Should a Parent Do?

It can be hugely upsetting if parents suspect that their children are going through this. As is the case with all health related issues the sooner you get them talking about it and seeking support the better. Explain that emotions come and go and even at their most painful they don’t last forever. It’s important to learn to ride them out in a healthy way, whether by distracting themselves with other behaviours or activities or by talking about it.Try not be critical or judgmental, instead encourage them to let you know when they feel like self-harming so you can help them through it.


If you feel you need further support and guidance speak to your GP and ask for a referral to a registered therapist. Alternatively there are places that can you give you and your family professional support online such as, a project dedicated to supporting young people who are affected by self-harm, or Self Injury Support which provides a young women’s text and email service, an any age helpline for women who self-harm, UK-wide listings for self-harm support and self-help tools.


Anti-Bullying Alliance – parent interactive online tool – (PARENT)

NSPCC: 0808 800 5000 (PARENT)

CHILDLINE: 0800 1111 (CHILD)

Direct Gov here: (CHILD)

Bullying UK: 0808 800 2222 (PARENT & CHILD)

The Diana Award: (PARENT & CHILD)

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