Cutting it

September 14, 2012

The children are all deep into the new term now, and it’s as though the holidays never happened. I miss our long chats, lounging around the kitchen table, about life, the universe and everything. Although one conversation with my girls did disturb me deeply.

I had known, of course, that teenage girls separate themselves out into various factions at this age. I’m not sure if boys do it too, but if they do, I imagine the demarcations are a little more fluid – and a lot more sane. If you’ve no idea what I’m talking about, watch the first St Trinian’s film, which has a very useful guide to the tribes – Emos (the emotionally disturbed, or Goths as we used to call them), Geeks or Neeks (teccy, speccy) Sporty (speaks for itself), Sloaney (which in the film is just plain slutty) and so on. All well and good. But then, from something the girls said, it was clear that one of these groups had formed at Child Two’s school and the price of entry was self-harm.

That’s right, there is a little coterie of cutters. Cutting didn’t exist at all when I was at school, the most disturbed you could get was having an eating disorder. I’m not making light of that – people died, and still die, from anorexia and suffer long-term health problems after recovering from it, or from bulimia. But it seemed quite a solitary vice. There weren’t gangs of anorexics, all refusing school lunch at the same time. The people with real food issues were isolated, locked in their own grim, unwinnable battles with the mirror and the scales. But this outbreak of cutting seems dangerous for different reasons. People seem to cut themselves to gain relief from overwhelming feelings – presumably the pain makes everything else go away, at least for a while. That much I understand – sort of. But is it still cutting, really, if a whole group is doing it? It seems like mass hysteria of some sort. And of course these are all girls from fairly cushioned backgrounds. It should be just one of those silly things girls do, then grow out of. But it involves blood, and knives, and pain and nasty red marks. It just seems quite sinister.

I wonder if they realise they could be left with permanent scars, which are bound to cause future employers, friends and lovers to raise eyebrows? Or these girls could contract horrible skin infections ….. or even cut too deeply one day. I also wonder if the school even knows this is going on. Either cutting is catching, or girls today aren’t spending enough time pointlessly running around hockey pitches. As I remember, the cold, the boredom and the exhaustion were all powerful antidotes to existential angst.



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  • Addy September 15, 2012 at 5:51 pm

    I never used to hear of it when I was at school but have become aware of at least two cases recently (children of two different friends).It makes me wonder just how many more there are out there. The permanent scarring is horrendous and it means the “victims” are forced to cover it up with long sleeves even in the hottest of climates, to avoid others seeing it or asking questions.

    • Dulwich Divorcee September 18, 2012 at 11:00 am

      It’s a very strange phenomenon, isn’t it? Quite bizarre and I really don’t see where the satisfaction lies. It’s probably time schools gave talks about it, though I suppose they don’t want to give anyone ideas (if they haven’t already got them!)

  • Family Affairs September 17, 2012 at 9:14 am

    Hmmm. It is a concern. I have been aware of certain kids that have attempted to mark themselves ….. hoping it was just an experiment rather than something they have to continue to do or a serious cry for help – there is a very powerful scene in the teenage play I saw “Mogadishu” about self harming……lets just hope it’s another little attempt to shock en mass and nothing more. Lx

    • Dulwich Divorcee September 18, 2012 at 11:02 am

      Sounds like an interesting play. I’m going to see Jumpy soon, about a middle-aged woman trying to cope with a teenage daughter! You’re probably right, it may just be one of these look-at-me crazes. Trouble is they all seem so permanent now, with piercings, tattoos and cutting all leaving marks which I’m sure most people would rather not have as reminders of teenage folly. At least in our day it was just those terrible Bay City Roller trousers and we could just burn them …..

  • janerowena September 17, 2012 at 9:42 am

    Very scary – I know there are whole websites dedicated to it, and it is very common now. My son’s school doesn’t seem to have a problem, but I had to do a survey on disturbed children for something I was doing, and I had no idea of the full scale of it until I was given the actual figures – which of course I had hopelessly underestimated. Body piercings were all the rage when my daughter was at school 5-10 years ago, along with tattoos. I found a magazine with an article on it, which said how long it took for a belly-button piercing to heal (up to 6 months!) and some REALLY gory photos showing infections that set in. I suggest you find a really good website on the subject and sit down and look at it and discuss it together. I managed to get my daughter through school unblemished, and I’m sure it is because we talked – as you have done.

    • Dulwich Divorcee September 18, 2012 at 11:04 am

      That’s a very good, practical idea. Nothing like an oozing belly button to put a squeamish teen off piercing for life (not to mention me!). I didn’t realise there were cutting websites and I don’t think I’m going to enjoy researching this but, as you say, it’s so important to talk about it all. Thanks!

  • Naomi Richards September 19, 2012 at 12:53 pm

    It is absolutely shocking.I have seen a few girls cutting and it is scary. It has come from them seeing others friends doing it and the main reason behind it is stress and the pressure that they put upon themselves. They did not come to me because of the cutting but because of stress/pressure.

    • Dulwich Divorcee September 20, 2012 at 2:02 pm

      Terrible that it seems to be catching and they are all copying this horrible habit. There is so much more pressure on kids (particularly girls) now though that I suppose it has to come out somewhere. Awful.