Correcting Destructive Behavior

Helping Teens With Destructive Behavior

Be Sensitive

Be sensitive to the stress in your teen’s life, advises Joseph Califano, president of the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse. A 2009 study by the center shows that teens with too much stress and no way of coping are more than twice as likely as less-stressed teens to engage in destructive behavior. Help your teen by listening to her concerns, knowing what is stressing her out and helping her find a way to cope with her stress. For example, consider buying her a gym membership so she can relieve stress with exercise, or sign her up for group sports.

Communicate Frequently

Open the lines of communication with your teen, advises Students Against Destructive Decisions. If you communicate regularly and openly with your teen, he is less likely to engage in destructive behavior because he has a bigger desire to live up to your expectations. For example, if you make it a habit to talk over dinner every night or in the car on the way to school, particularly about things like sex and drugs, your teen will learn to be more open discussing those things with you. This may make him less likely to engage in these destructive behaviors.

Stay Engaged

Staying engaged in your teen’s life is a good way to help her with destructive behavior, Califano says. Know who her friends are -- and their parents, if possible. Go to her sporting events or performances, know where she is at all times and prevent her from becoming bored. Encourage her to sign up for extracurricular activities, get a job or volunteer. Invite her to spend more time with you and do fun things together to strengthen your bond.

Consider Professional Help

If you suspect your teen’s destructive behavior has become an addiction or needs more help than you can offer, consider professional help. Drug and alcohol rehabilitation programs, therapy and even medications can help your teen overcome destructive addictions such as drugs, drinking and cutting, advises psychologist Mary Carole Curran. While you can help prevent your teen from engaging in self-destructive behavior during the early stages, it’s much more difficult to help an addict without professional help.

When to Seek Counseling for Self Destructive Behavior in Children


Self-destructive behavior includes cutting, carving, branding, burning, biting and scratching. Children may use sharp objects, razors, cigarette lighters or matches to hurt themselves. Children may also pull at their skin or hair, bang their heads or acquire excessive body piercings. However, your child's injuries may not be obvious to you or others; many people who self-injure hide injuries or scars from others, according to

Causes and Risk Factors

Children self-injure for several reasons, including getting relief from bad feelings or coping with pressure. Children may also hurt themselves in order to rebel, fit in with their peers or take risks. Children who are depressed or aggressive, experience family losses, have suicidal parents or experience family violence are more likely to be self-destructive, according to "Psychiatric Clinics of North America." Self-injury can also be associated with mental health problems such as eating disorders and bipolar disorders, according to

Getting Help

Talk to your child's doctor if he is expressing self-destructive behavior. Your doctor may refer your child to a mental health professional, who can help diagnose the reasons your child is engaging in self-injury. Treatment for self-destructive behavior depends on the cause and may include individual therapy, family therapy and medication. Although some children who engage in self-destructive behavior may develop Borderline Personality Disorder as they grow older, others grow out of it, according to the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry.

Emergency Situations

Children don't usually try to permanently injure themselves or commit suicide when they cut or self-injure, according to However, if your child feels like she wants to die or is considering or attempting to kill herself, call 911 or go to the emergency room, says the National Institute of Mental Health. Don't leave her alone and ensure she can't access firearms, medication or other dangerous objects. You can also call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline for confidential advice 24 hours a day at 1-800-273-TALK (8255).