Have you heard of "cutting"? If you're a parent, you'd better read up. "Cutting" refers to self-mutilation -- using knives, razor blades or even safety pins to deliberately harm one's own body -- and it's spreading to a school near you.
Actresses Angelina Jolie and Christina Ricci did it. So did Courtney Love and the late Princess Diana. On the Internet, there are scores of websites (with titles such as "Blood Red," "Razor Blade Kisses" and "The Cutting World") featuring "famous self-injurers," photos of teenagers' self-inflicted wounds and descriptions of their techniques. The destructive practice has been depicted in films targeting young girls and teens (such as "Thirteen"). There is even a new genre of music -- "emo" -- associated with promoting the cutting culture.
In Britain, health care researchers estimate that one in 10 teenagers engages in addictive self injury. According to psychiatrist Gary Litovitz, medical director of Dominion Hospital in Falls Church, Va., the growing trend here in America has alarmed school guidance counselors around the country.
It's not just delinquents and social misfits who are doing it. A concerned parent sent me the following letter recently:
I just found out this week that my 14-year-old daughter is a 'cutter.' She has a 4.0 average, 8th grade, goes to a good school, and is well-liked by all who know her. She is popular, has two homes (mine and her dad's) with supportive, loving families in each. Her own friends cut, too: four of them that I know of now between the ages of 11 and 14 . . . [a]s do her two cousins, ages 11 and 15.
My daughter cuts herself with a safety pin. I found this out on her own personal website, which I discovered she had been hiding on a hidden account she used at another relative's home. She had links to webrings about cutting, suicide and broken hearts as well as images and poetry. Her friends all feature cutting/suicide links, icons and song lyrics as well.
The counselor at her school told me this: At her middle school, '70 percent of the kids here cut or know someone who does. It's cool, a trend, and acceptable. Boys do it as well but are more public about it. . . . you're not even the first parent this week: you're the third, and just today a girl received stitches in the hospital for cutting herself so bad.'
While many public schools deny the problem exists, public health advocacy groups are warning medical professionals of the cutting craze -- and have even declared March 1st "Self Injury Awareness Day."