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07 Nov 2006

Cutting
About a year ago, my daughter mentioned that the brother of one of her friends, then 11, cut the word God on his thigh. The father found him doing it, and told both the son and daughter not to tell the mom. I'm friendly with the mom, we regularly go for coffee and have been at each other's house on a few occasions. The mom always speaks to (and of) the son very negatively, but has never mentioned the cutting. I know this boy recently came off Ritalin, he doesn't seem to feel good about himself, because he was teased about his height (he's short) and weight (chubby), and is battling academically. I find him a charming young man and like him tremendously.

My daughter just told me that her friend is in a hell of a state about her brother, now 12, because he cuts himself on a daily basis, has scars on his stomach, thighs and arms. She further told my daughter that their mother refuses to take this boy to a psychologist, she seems in denial because she made them promise not to tell anyone, she hands out bandages and plasters, even buys him long sleeved clothes to hide the scars.

I have enough on my own plate at the moment, and certainly don't want to make other people's business mine, but I feel compelled to do something to help this child, who is clearly desperate.

Should I approach the mom, risking our "friendship", which I'm prepared to lose if it means her boy will get help. Or maybe speak to the school psychologist? I even considered phoning Child Welfare. Or should I just leave it? I don't think I can!!!

I know some people cut themselves when they're battling emotionally, but is there a specific reason or could it be any emotional problem? And is it common for a young boy of 11/12 to cut himself?
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Expert
CyberShrink
cybershrink

01 Jan 0001

Sounds like a very dysfunctional family. The dad finds unmistakeable evidence that the poor boy is severely troubled, and instead of taking him for help, hides it and makes the kids hide this from the mother. She finds more evidence that he is a deeply troubled boy, and SHE in turn hides it, helps the boy to hide it, and swears them all to secrecy from the father. I understand your difficulty in deciding how to intervene usefully, while feeling compelled to try to help. This is exactly the sort of situation in which a suicide occurs, and everyone pretends to be shocked and surprised, and yet the signals had been clear for years, and no form of proper expert help had been sought.
There are a range of psychological problems in which people may cut themselves, but it is NEVER normal for a boy of 11 to be cutting himself in this way, and it should NEVER be ignored. A mother who helps hide the evidence while pretending there's nothing wrong, and who refuses to do what is obviously needed, and to take him for the help he desperately needs and desrves, must herself be a disturbed woman. You know better than we which ( or maybe several ) intervention might work --- approaching her tactfully might help her face facts ; I dont know if a school psychologist can intervene without a request from the parents, but presumably might if the teachers thought there was a problem ; and the welfare authorities ought to be interested. I agree with Chelle, that the parents response in this situation amounts to abuse and neglect. Ideally, in time, the whole family ought to become involved in Family Therapy, but first things first.
Let us know how things progress
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