The scary world of 12 years olds

alicia and grace

It was an evening last week when I learned that my 12 years old daughter, a very sensitive and empathic girl, is chatting with a friend who is, at the same time over the phone with another friend escorting the local police searching for another (fourth) friend suspected of trying to commit suicide, per her Facebook page. So, this is the situation:

My kid is sitting on her bed trembling and crying, while I am staring at her I-pad unbelievably, chat lines running extremely fast saying:  “Diane is not at the living room… wait, looking for her at the kitchen…not there! Perhaps she already did it! Wait, the police is entering the bathroom… Here she is! She is alive! She tried to kill herself!” Etc.

Well, after making sure that Diane (which my daughter is not familiar with) is ok, and that her parents are aware of what’s happening in their house, I was available to take care of my kid.

It was only then that I started to understand what these kid’s world is made of today : She told me about girls trying to take their lives (as far as I understood she is very much exposed to that through Facebook), and many girls who cut themselves.

Cutting? I mean, most of us have heard about certain situations in which girls try to injure themselves, but hey, am I the only one who didn’t know that this has lately become a phenomenon? Quote – “Mom, are you trying to tell me that you’ve never seen all these girls whose arms are covered in the summer???” Sorry, no…never!

So I insisted, and learned that many of her Facebook friends, many of them fans of singers that she is in contact with but also girls that she knows personally (at least one is a good friend) “cut”. Then she showed me endless groups called  “Don’t hurt yourself” etc., where many girls are discussing this (As, “yesterday I cut a lot”!)

I was a 12 years old once (long ago, I admit). I don’t recall that my world was full of suicidal attempts and of girls cutting issues. How did it become so frightening and so violent for children?

I was asking around, and non of my mom – friends heard about it, so I called the school staff, none heard about it as well. Just before I started to think that I am dreaming all this (a nightmare, you might call it), I saw ” The Good Wife” season 4 episode 8:  Grace telling Alicia about girls cutting. Well, at least I am not the only shocked mom around!

http://teenshealth.org/teen/your_mind/problems/resisting_cutting.html

384 Comments

January 9, 2013 · 10:27 am

384 responses to “The scary world of 12 years olds

  1. thanks for a good and thought provoking blog. I think it may also be about powerlessness. Many children feel so powerless (and are), especially if, unlike you, their parents dont listen to them. Irrational guitt, self judging and self harming are all ways of avoiding this even more difficult feeling : powerlessness. They give us an illusion of being in control and of beating the persecutor to it. A kind of preemptive strike.

    • I agree with Wyon. It has to do with feeling powerless.

      (I also agree with him in saying – thanks for a good and thought provoking blog.)

      Schools, Facebook, TV, movies, all pile on the pressure. Parents are stressed out with two jobs (or worse, a single parent struggling with two jobs) and have no time left for their kids. They might be too busy and tired to spot what’s going on and maybe do something about it.

      Recognising that cutting is widespread is the first step.

      • I just want to reiterate, as an adult cutter in recovery, that cutting is not about powerlessness, but about taking back the power. I know some people may think I am splitting hairs but I’m really not, the distinction matters. a cutter believes that he or she is taking back the power. The cutter is saying, ‘you can’t hurt me as much as I can hurt myself.’ But I also have to say that cutting, or any form of self injury, is extremely complicated and a person who is showing signs of self injury needs expert care, preferably from a therapist/counselor or another professional in the mental health field. As in my case, self injury is often related to eating disorders, and a person who self injures has a much higher likelihood of being of victim of sexual abuse.
        I just want to make sure parents know that this isn’t something most parents can handle on their own. You may want to handle this on your own, by telling your child you love them, or by asking them not to do this again. And for some kids that might work. But for a lot of people who self injure, the problem is much more complicated, and they need much more help than you can give on your own.
        I hope none of your children will ever suffer from the issues that cause self injury!

        • I’m happy to be corrected, Ericka. I think we could both agree that it is about power. As you say, taking back the power. I don’t think you are splitting hairs, I think you are bringing hard-won personal insight and nuance. I often say to people I work with: “More than one thing can be true at once”. I urge them to say AND-not-but. So, I hope you would agree that feelings of powerlessness are present, AND that cutting as a response is about taking back the power.

          Which leads me to ask – what other, less harmful ways might there be to take back the power? I have no idea, I’m just asking the question.

  2. When I read this post my first thought was, “does this blogger live in this town?!” I just had a call about a month ago from a friend whose daughter had just heard that a girl had texted a mutual friend, that she was going to kill herself– my husband teaches at the school the suicidal 12 year old attends so my friend knew her would know how to contact the parents. My husband was out of town, but I was able to contact the school counselor and other teachers and they were on it…when I was finally able to reach my husband he was shocked and sad, she is one of his students…he said she is very very anxious,…someone my son knows tried to kill himself last year as a ninth grader…I know he has a very hard.home life (as a teacher my husband has been dealing with his unwell mother for years)…
    …I have a hard time processing such news, such sadness, I have a hard time moving on….how do our children manage to process this?

    • …Some kid’s do have a reason,like me for example.My grand-mother has cancer,can only live for 2 years now,my great-grand-father died on June 13,my great-grandmother is a witch(not kidding) and has a crushed shoulder,my mom is always busy and has no time for me,people think I’m a weirdo,I’m now getting acne(I’m 12 years old by the way),I have to get rid of my dog,I’ve had her for 4 and a half years,my other dog keeps getting out and almost get’s ran over,my door nob is always getting pushed out and I can’t get in or out of my room,our internet is messed up,my brother has major anger issues,I have no one to talk to because I live on a busy street and no neighborhood,no one understands that I’m really sensible and they don’t understand me,my dad is disabled,my bio dad is trying to “try to be a actual father” but really just failing,I mean I’m not going back to him of what he did to my mom and he has never been there my step-dad,disabled one which I really just call dad because he has been with me forever,and my parents fight a lot.Nothing makes sense anymore.I started wondering if all pf this happened because of me.See,my mom has cancer when she had my brother Jonathan(my other brother is a step,Ryan)and if she hadn’t gotten pregnant,she wouldn’t have known she had it.After the treatments and stuff she couldn’t have kids anymore.After 4 years,1 month,and 1 day,I was born.I wonder if I was just a mistake,that it wasn’t mean’t to be.

      • I forgot to say that my grandmother lives with me now.

        • Kayla

          update:my grandmother died sooner than we though my grandfather died and we finally had a funeral for my great grandpa and we don’t think that my great grandmother will make it thanks are a lot better now but my speech is worse i can’t pronounce my r’s correctly and people are making fun of it I’ve been in speech therapy my whole life and no can help still :( I’ve grown a love for singing,basketball,and piano though my great grand mother has cancer but she’s 80 my mother has more time for me luckily Jonathan is better i guess he doesn’t really tall to me my bio dad has talked to me in a while which I’m glad of my dad
          (step dad) is diabetic so is my great grandmother (forgot to put that in the last one) I’ve joined church and getting to know god I mean I never really paid any time to him before we don’t have much money but my cousin had a baby :) a boy named trey he is like 10 lbs now and only almost a year old he talks a lot

        • You were meant to be. Talk to the guidance counsellor at school if yours has one. Hugs. Have special times with your grandmother so you’ll remember her last years warmly – my grandmothers lived overseas so I never knew them very well. Just sit and talk and let her tell you stories. You didn’t say why you had to get rid of your dog – can you get a smaller pet, like a hamster, if size is a problem? My 15-year-old had gerbils when we shared a house with other people and they were fine.
          If you have BBM, there are lots of fun and serious channels you can join – with people who like the same things you do. Some are by people with depression or family issues too and they try to help. (You can get BBM on iPhone, Android and BlackBerry now, Windows Phone in the summer.)

          It’s been a long time since your post but I hope you get this. Hugs.

  3. Wow…I just read this, and the other 2 parts as well. This struck a chord deep within me as I am currently struggling through this with my child. Thank you.

  4. Reblogged this on The Experience and commented:
    I just read this post and I thought yeah this is shocking although I a man but I am facing similar problems well I hope not to that extend but I think my soon to be step daughter is going throw a psychological distress

  5. thanks for this post and i am sure as i read the rest of your posts i will learn allot thank you so much

  6. Cutting is nothing new. The feelings of pain from the cutting distract from the emotional pain one is feeling. It is very addictive, just like anything that takes one’s mind off one’s troubles. It can be scary when you are unfamiliar with it, for sure.

  7. I work with a program in our local jail called “Life after Meth”. It is a faith based recovery program for women. I have had a couple of women cutters and they said it was to mask the pain they were feeling inside basically the same thing that the drugs do.

  8. I have worked with many at risk kids for many years, so this is not a new topic for me. It can be scary for kids out there. One reason I homeschool.

  9. My son’s finance was a cutter and eventually did succeed in taking her life. It was a horrible tragedy for her family, ours, and many others. She was a fantastic girl, full of life and music. I wish I could answer your question, “How did it become so frightening and so violent for children?”, and then I wish I could go back and change whatever happened in the world that made it so. All we can do is make our homes a safe house against the storms, keep the communication open, and love them through the rough times that we once just called childhood.

  10. A 14 year old just killed herself in our town. I believe that girls have a lot more pressure now-a-days to be something, anything than what they are. They need to grow up, put out, and shut up. I’m sure this is not as true in some communities that live censored lives. When I hear lyrics that talk about girls as “tools” to turn guys on, it comes as no surprise to me when they cannot handle the pressure of their male peers to live up to “that” expectation.

  11. Everyone complains about stress, but many don’t seem to realize how much pressure our children are under. Compare a few things to 50 years ago: Kindergarten then: finger paint, story time; kindergarten now: fractions, homework. After school then: Mom greets you, gives you a snack, you go out and play with the other kids; after school now: You let yourself in to an empty house, have a snack, and start your homework (which you may not finish by dinner time). Or you do your homework at school until someone picks you up at 6 pm. Many children split their lives between two homes, two sets of parents. Grades then: A’s and B’s–“I’m so proud of you!” Grades now: A’s and B’s–“What happened?? You’ll never get into college with grades like these!” Girls today are bombarded with images of impossible-to-achieve beauty standards–your skin isn’t smooth enough, your body not thin enough, your hair not shiny enough. For all our children, “average” is completely unacceptable. Adults can’t handle a world where they are never good enough–is it any wonder our children feel they can’t cope?

  12. My first grader just had a fight with her best friend because the friend threatened to take out all her muscles. There were lots of tears. I am not looking forward to Cutting.

  13. Terrifying. Young minds have to filter so much too soon. Thanks for posting this. I had no idea…

  14. Yes I am aware of “Cutting”. Raising teens is a cray place to be right now. I am scared to death for my kids.Since the first of the year there has been one suicides, and two deaths in our HS. I pray for their family’s. Thank you for sharing this story.

  15. Thanks for visiting my blog which led me to yours. My 12 year old granddaughter was a cutter due to her inability to cope with an assault by her 9 year old cousin when she was 7 and her parents subsequent divorce. We need to be educated on how to help.

  16. My grandson is 11 and has cut himself twice now. It scares the S—- out of all of us. Thank you for your article. BTW: He is getting some help but everyone still feels extremely helpless.

    C

  17. It’s scary as they get older, the problems are bigger and not so easily fixed. Cutting is terrifying for the parent, especially when you’re caught off guard as you were. Educate yourself. Keep talking to your daughter – you need to share what you think about this and other issues and offer reassurance that she’s safe, has a future and is your number one priority.

  18. Very scary world for our young children.

  19. tobethebest2day

    Hi,

    First of all, thank you for liking my post.

    Second, I’m glad I found your blog because, guess what, I’ve got a 12 year old daughter (and another 8 yr old daughter), too!

    With regards to cutting, this happened to my 12 yr old, too, last year. I didn’t notice it because, thankfully, they were very small cuts. Even before I knew about it and when it seemed something was amiss, I asked my daughter’s school’s psychologist to chat to her. After a few sessions, the school eventually called me for a meeting to inform me about it and the reason behind it. She got cyber-bullied and that’s what made her feel powerless and result to cutting.

    I’m so glad I followed my intuition for her to see the psychologist and she got the help that she needed. But there was also the part of me who can’t help but blame myself because I have a history of cutting, too, and how I may have unconsciously passed it on to my daughter.

    P.S. I’ll definitely go check out Parents-Space.

  20. Suicide is a huge problem for today’s youth. When I was in high school I lost a friend to suicide every single year. The high school has lost about 8 kids in 7 years to suicide. I tried to make a difference when I was a student there, forcing the school into temporary action. But the truth is, the schools don’t want to deal with it. Suicide has a stigma and school boards won’t leave their small boxes to help the students. So sad. Friends I will never see again, and loss I can never get over.

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  22. Thank you for sharing this. I never was able to understand the relief that cutting must provide for people who are in extreme emotional pain until recently. While grieving the death of my 22 year old daughter to cancer, I decided to get a tattoo to honor her. I was actually looking forward to the physical pain of the tattoo as it felt easier than some of the emotional pain I was experiencing at the time. The chemicals one’s body releases with this physical pain are similar to the high from many drugs as well, so another reason for the pain/pleasure relief. I’m not in such emotional pain now, but that was my first glimpse of understanding this phenomenon, and the pain so many girls must be in to be cutting for relief!

  23. Unfortunately this is the world we now live in and to a large extent it is of our own making. Children appear to live their lives through social networks like Facebook & twitter and we let them by providing unsupervised access to computers in the misguided belief that they know what they are doing.
    “We” were lucky to grow up in an age pre internet when such pressures could not be so easily hidden. Perhaps it’s time to turn off the computer.

  24. KerryTaylor2012

    Sorry, I am as naive as you are, because I heard about it, but I still do not understand it. I did not get the answer from the post – they cut themselves but the question is why? What is the reason? What makes them think they should cut themselves?Furthermore, are they doing it for attention, because I do not understand how they do it and then advertise it on Facebook. That just feels bizzare. I know from back in the day there were girls with eating disorders etc. none of them would openly go and say I threw up today, or I have not eaten all day. This would be a secret, because they felt low, and wanted to be thin, and hated themselves for being anything else but thin. This makes sense. Therefore, is it really an issue of they feel vulnerable or they have to be in with the crowd?

    • hi, I’ve left several replies on here addressing the reasons and the addiction. If you look maybe you can find them here. I am in several self harm books on facebook-all of them supporting self injurers who are trying to stop self harm. The best of these groups, and the best authority on self injury, is an organization called TO WRITE LOVE ON HER ARMS. They can answer any questions you have.
      I am afraid I have to tell you your perceptions are very wrong. Cutting, or other forms of self injury, is never done for attention. You say that eating disorders are secret, and they are. Have you never heard of facebook pages and websites for people with eating disorders? There are many such sites that are promoting eating disorders, encouraging girls to cause themselves to vomit, etc.
      If you know about eating disorders, maybe you know that eating disorders are really about control? often a person who has no control of their life will develop an eating disorder as a means of controlling something in their lives. They feel powerless, and not eating, or bingeing and purging, are their only means of control.
      A self injurer very often also has an eating disorder. Self injurers are also far more likely to have been sexually abused. And just like the people with eating disorders, they are trying to take back control of their lives. When a cutter feels stressed out, they will cut and suddenly feel great relief. It only lasts for a few minutes, but it is enough to keep them cutting.
      I know there are bad websites about self injury out there-just as there are about virtually anything. But there are also good, healthy sites. Again, TO WRITE LOVE ON HER ARMS is the best authority on the subject.
      again, i’m sorry for running on here.

  25. Susan Nitz

    I found out years later that my daughter was bulimic and cutting. How the hell does this happen when loving, caring parents who are there every moment the child is not in school miss this. I tell you how. The child doesn’t talk about their pain as they don’t want to put more pain on their parent. As a single mom of three, young widow, I think she was sparing me. God how selfish must I have been. She could have died and I would have missed it. It was around the 12-16 mark also

  26. A difficult world for young girls. My own daughter just turned 12. All the best in parenting.
    Thanks for liking my post!

  27. Cutting, as was mentioned in a previous post is nothing new. Burning is another way kids/adults relieve pain. When I have a patient in my office that has a history of cutting/burning I screeni carefully for past abuse/trauma. Not always, but often cutters have had a hx of being abused. I see cutting and suicidality as two different things and not directly interrelated.

  28. Pingback: A Personal Introduction Part II | American Adolescence

  29. Thank you for you post! So many kids today struggle with many issues and parents feel they are alone and unsure of how to deal with their kids. I am a life and wellness coach and a former social worker who how has worked with youth at-risk. The problems that kids encounter are displayed more openly through social media and girls are targeted more. Yes, some of the issues are the same ones that we had growing up but now they are multiplied due to how our society operates. Technology can be an advantage, yet it has it many disadvantages. Parents need to know they are not alone and so do kids. There is help available. I would start at home with keeping lines of communication open. Have healthy boundaries in place and always be the parent and don’t try to be your child’s friend. I speak as a parent of three children and I have a 15 year daughter who pushes the limits sometimes. There is always good counselors available, support groups,and it helps to be involved in your church or practicing in a faith. Kids learn by example, lead a healthy lifestyle instead of just talking to them.
    It is great you were able to be there and do what you did for your daughter and help her to understand the world of craziness. Thank you again for sharing your thoughts.

  30. Our children bring us into worlds that we were previously unaware. We are here to guide them, and sometimes they also guide us.

  31. As a recently retired teacher, am aware of cutting. Am hoping that you have 100% access to her Facebook account including password. We would tell parents it’s not to show that they don’t trust their kids, but to protect them from others. Just a thought,

  32. KerryTaylor2012

    Reblogged this on Kerry Taylor and commented:
    Parenting, has the baggage become heavier with the aid of social media?

  33. That is terrifying! I have a 12 year old girl too. I think that I’ll ask her about this. Thanks!

  34. Reblogged this on musings|scraplog and commented:
    One of the many things I find curious about the playwork field here in UK is the extent to which it ignores the world of parenting. I’m not sure why, although I have some ideas (which I won’t share now for fear of annoying my playwork chums).

    I wonder how we can blithely talk about providing play opportunities and the importance of risky play and all that, when we take no notice of the family life of twelve year olds like this one? Some women playwork writers have talked about a marginalised female perspective within playwork, and I agree largely, but my point is this – are we enogh aware of these phenomena? And if we are, are we doing enough to offer a safe place for girls within our play provision?

    I guess my comments are aimed more at the rufty-tufty adventure end of the provision – after-school childcare schemes might provide more girl-friendly spaces. Perhaps. and it’s not just about girls. boys have similar pressures, though they tend to act out in different ways, perhaps.

    I’m not saying this to be contentious, I’m just saying that consideration of these questions might lead to us modifying some of our ‘offerings’, as the jargon has it.

    • thank you for recognizing that boys struggle with self injury too! With boys, statistics show that boys who self injure do it less frequently than girls., but when they do, boys usually injure themselves more severely.

  35. Well any conclusions? I think that there is a problem with the type of communication used, in this case the internet. Children used to go out on the street and play. They had the chance to “collect” first hand experiences. The world now is all second and third hand experiences, usually not very good ones and certainly all of them “fixed” one way or another. Do not mean that they are always staged, but that the information given are at a “freak you out” basis. Hate to say it but modern life in this respect is rubbish. No place for kids to go out safely, no time for their parents to be with them and share the great gift of common time, no adventures created by them that will make lasting memories that will be the soft pillows to fall back on, during their adult life. And then I am afraid there will be no room for editings, just cutting.

  36. It is a different world today with social media. In this case, I hope there was a positive outcome.

    • It is so very dangerous to blame social media! This happened way before social media! who was the famous singer who died of anorexia in the 70s? Parents need to recognize that self injury is strongly linked to eating disorders and abuse (most often sexual abuse). I have ready many, many books on self injury, and have been treated in an inpatient facility, to overcome my addiction to self injury. And yes, self injury is much more than cutting! I mainly cut with razor blades, but I also used boiling water and spoon handles to burn myself, attempted to smash my hand by bashing against floor and walls, and eventually used a hammer. Just before I went inpatient, at my own decision, I really wanted to break my hand.
      And one more thing I don’t think many people know: after a while, self injury does become an addiction just like any other drug addiction. The pain a cutter feels is a high. When you are stressed out and then you cut, you get immediately relief, much like when a smoker has a cigarette they really need. It is an opiate response in the brain. So, as strange as it may sound, people become addicted to self injury because it gets them high.
      I actually take a prescription drug called Naltrexone to help me stay clean from self injury. This drug is little known in the states but in Great Britain it is used for alcoholics and heroin addicts. It is an opiate inhibitor, which means that if I cut now, I will not get the opiate response in my brain that causes the high.
      I don’t mean to go on and on but I unfortunately know a lot about this subject, and I hope I can share all I know. I promise you that at no point did social media ever effect my addiction to self injury.

      • I agree, and, remember, more than one thing can be true at once:

        1. it happened before social media TRUE
        2. social media make it worse. also TRUE

        There is increasing evidence that these behaviours spread like (as if they were) diseases, via the internet. so the disease reaches more kids, and is made worse for the kids it does reach.

        The established opinion is that cutting has always been around, but now it is becoming much more prevalent, the ‘flames’ fanned by the ‘oxygen’ of social media.

        • You make a great point, and I absolutely agree with you!
          I guess my fear is that some people might dismiss the problem, saying something like “it’s all because of social media” or possibly think that somehow if they keep their child off facebook this problem will go away. Maybe I am overcautious-or overzealous! I just know how much it hurts when you get to that point, and I hope discussions like this will inform parents about how to protect their kids.

  37. I am not a parent, but admire anyone that is and does there best to be good at it. thanks for visiting, paz abby

  38. firestationbaby.com

    I will be back to this site often as I have a ten-year-old daughter and could use some wisdom and advice.

  39. I, too, grew up in a different world. Our culture has become so toxic, and it’s become politically incorrect to say so. Outrageous doesn’t begin to cover it. We must fight it every way we can, and try to teach our children that there are better paths. Wishing you and your daughter well, you sound like a very caring mom. Hang in there.

  40. I loved this post. I’ve known about cutting a long time, as girls were doing it when I was in school, too. I like the way you’re telling your audience, and I’m glad you’re not interested in the ‘shame game.’

  41. I am trying to understand cutting myself. Is it to stop the emotional empathic pain?

  42. A long time ago, when I was a teenager, I used to cut and also to hit myself with my fists and also with a meat mallet. I remember feeling better after doing it as the physical pain felt so much better than the emotional pain I was dealing with. Happy to say this is long in the past, so there is hope for emotional wounds to heal just as the physical ones do.

    I also agree with “ablessedpilgrim” that your daughter is lucky to have you acknowledge her pain I believe that is the first step in healing.

    Thank you for such a wonderful post!

  43. Lissa Masters

    Good for you for being an attentive mom. You are assisting not only your daughter but many girls her age… Tx for reading my blog!

  44. Thank you for visiting my blog. I am so glad to have found yours. Self injury can start at an early age. My four year old hits his head on things to block out emotional pain. His pain response is unusual and he gets feelings of pleasure from doing this, so he tells me. Teens and Tweens today, and even many younger children, are under tremendous amounts of pressure and stress. It is no wonder they are so vulnerable :-(

  45. Pingback: Right Place, Right Time | CardCastlesInTheSky

  46. Amy

    Oh my goodness. My daughter is nine, and so far, I haven’t heard about any of this. I do see how different it appears to be now as opposed to when I was a kid. Maybe I came from too small a town where things were backwards and slower than the pace of “the real world,” but suicide attempts and cutting were NOT something we experienced. Ever! This is absolutely heartbreaking, and it terrifies me to realize what she will be becoming exposed to within the next few years. :(

  47. Lulu

    i am not strong anymore.. i cut myself…. but i cant do this anymore

    • Hugs. Know that others have been through it. I would look for a support group in your area to help you stop cutting and get the support you need from people who really know and have been there. It’s good that you know you can’t keep cutting. That’s the first step. Hugs.

  48. If you have BBM look for a Channel called Self-harm and Depression (there are three). They are run by a 14-year-old who is struggling with cutting and is trying to help others. In case you don’t know, BBM is available for iPhone, Android, BlackBerry and soon Windows Phone.

  49. P.S. Your daughter is very blessed to have you notice her pain. When I was her age, no one ever paid attention to those things in my life.

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