Researchers: Teens using digital self-harm as cry for help

Researchers: Teens using digital self-harm as cry for help

(WWBT) - Parents, we have a warning about a dangerous new trend - digital self harm.

This happens when you think your child is being bullied online, but it turns out your child is posting, sending or sharing mean things not about others, but about themselves.

Researchers say it's a cry for help.

Allison Lin, 13, surfs social media quite a bit, and is sometimes surprised at what her friends post about themselves.

"Their hair doesn't look good. They're ugly. They're fat, use words that don't describe them very well," said Lin.

Researchers say teens attacking and bullying themselves online is a frightening new trend.

"Students will create a fake account or will post comments in an anonymous app that are of a hurtful nature or a threatening nature, and they'll basically be saying those things towards themselves," said Justin Patchin, who has a Ph.D. in Criminal Justice and is the co-author of the a study about digital self-harm.

This first got attention when an English teen posted digital messages of self-harm weeks before taking her own life.  Then, a Texas teen did something similar.

These incidents triggered a recent study that found teens are taking self-harm to the digital level at an alarming rate.

"We expected, maybe one or two percent of students had done this. What we found was between five and six percent of students said they had either cyberbullied themselves online or posted something hurtful online anonymously about themselves," added Patchin.

The study of 5,700 middle and high school students also asked them why they were doing it.

They said it was a cry for help. They were looking to see if somebody would reach out to help them.

The study also found these devastating words are often connected to devastating actions.

Those who participate in physical self-harm like burning and cutting are more likely to bully themselves online.

"We don't know which came first. We don't know if one leads to the other," said Patchin.

They advise parents of these teens to get them a mental health evaluation.

Allison says she'd talk with her friends if they kept insulting themselves and maybe more, "If it was one of my friends and I was pretty close to them I might come to the parents."

And there was another interesting find from the research. Significantly more boys were participating in digital forms of self-harm than girls.

If you are experiencing thoughts of suicide, please contact the suicide prevention hotline at: 1-800-273-TALK.

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