How social media is normalizing self-harm for kids and why parents should care.

Mental Health
By
Cyber Dive
Nov 19, 2021
5 min read

Self-harm among children, teens and young adults is nothing new. What's new is the vast array of social platforms that allow them to share and access content related to it. As a result, the number of kids self-harming has continued to rise. In 2018, over 1.2 million Instagram posts included hashtags like #selfharm, #hatemyself, #selfharmawareness and #cutting. Now, maybe you're thinking your child doesn't follow anyone that is posting about self-harming. Unfortunately, with the way social media algorithms have been designed to prey on its vulnerable users, they are susceptible to seeing photos and videos related to it on their feed.

Why are they posting about self-harm?

Social media can be a safe space for those struggling, but it can also become an outlet where self-harm is normalized. For young kids, they may not even know what self-harming is or why people do it until they come across a TikTok or Instagram post talking about it.

Studies have found that one's motivation to post about their own self-harm can come from a variety of places. They may be seeking support, trying to fit in or want to discuss how they self-harm with others.

A Cry For Help

One of the great benefits of social media is that it gives people the chance to connect and communicate with those who share common interests, hobbies or perspectives. When struggling with mental illness, external support is crucial. Unfortunately, not every child feels or knows that they have someone trusted and stable that they can turn to in real life. So, during these dark times, kids will often turn to their online community for support.

They may be posting pictures or videos of their self-harm scars as a cry for help. It's likely that they find comfort in sharing their emotional and psychological struggles with others with the hopes that someone out there is experiencing the same thing. Sometimes they just need someone who cares about them to give them a reason to stop.

Teach Others How To Self-Harm

I know how it sounds. Why would anyone who is struggling and suffering from self-harm or suicidal thoughts want others to experience the same pain? As kids, they just want to feel normal. They want to feel like the dark thoughts in their head are going on in other kids' minds too. They want to share and bond over their misery. It's common that they will turn to social media to discuss different forms of self-harm, how to hide it or how to do it in a way that doesn't lead to infection. In other words, there are accounts out there posting a 'How to self-harm guide' and big tech is allowing it to populate on your child's feed.

Copy-Cat Behavior

Research has found that teens are more likely to share the same type of content that they see others sharing. Ever heard of the word 'trending'? The more teenagers are exposed to social media posts about self-harm, the more interested they become and the more likely they are to follow suit.

As scary as it sounds, children are extremely absorbant of all types of content, both positive and negative. For example, maybe your child has been feeling down lately. A few months ago they didn't even know what self-harm was but lately, they've been seeing TikToks related to it. It's not because they are intentionally following these accounts or posting about it themselves but because the algorithm noticed that they take the time to stop and watch these videos out of curiosity. Because of this exposure, one of their first thoughts is to harm themselves because a video they watched made it seem like that's what you do when they feel sad.

This vicious cycle is what has normalized self-harm online and increased its prevalence in society, especially among younger generations.

What kind of 'awareness' is being spread online?

There's a fine line between spreading awareness about self-harm and normalizing it.  In 2005, less than 3% of college freshmen were self-harming. In 2018? More than 19%. The numbers continue to rise and it is likely attributed to the amount of information available to the public. A recent study found that the 1.2 million Instagram posts that used hashtags like #selfharm, #hatemyself, #selfharmawareness and #cutting were most commonly accompanied by #suicide and #depression.

Why you need to start the conversation now.

Mental health in children is often overlooked until it's too late. As a parent, I encourage you to begin having these conversations before your kid becomes curious and turns to the internet for answers.

As a company committed to the mental well-being of children, we designed our Mental Health Check to help parents start these conversations with their children. We worked alongside clinical child psychologists to create questions that dive deep and ask your child about things like friendship, bullying, family relationships, how they handle certain emotions and more. These frequent checks were meant to keep you consistently informed and force your child to really stop and think about how they are feeling throughout the day.

Make sure it is engrained in your child's mind that they can always turn to you whenever they feel their mental health is taking a turn. Talk about the different options available if they begin to feel depressed or anxious and that self-harm is never the answer.


If you or your child are having thoughts of self-harm, visit our Helpful Hotlines page for a variety of mental health and crisis-related resources.

"It's encouraging to know that, as parents, you do not have to be left in the dark, you can be involved. That's quite a powerful tool."
Elizabeth Smart
Elizabeth Smart Foundation
"Helping parents prepare for the gamut of situations to which social media opens the door has made [Cyber Dive] venture more valuable than the bottom line."
Georgann Yara
azcentral
"If we're concerned about stranger danger... what about a stranger getting into your child's direct messages? It can be just as dangerous, if not more so."
Billy Harfosh
iHeartRadio
"In a society that relies so much on virtual connection, it is necessary that we teach our children how to navigate and use technology responsibly."
Dawn Van Vamp
Co-Founder of The Mama Army
"As a Lawman and a parent I love seeing solutions for protecting children from the child predators. This Aqua One phone helps parents and even addresses the mental health of the child. Well done Cyber Dive."
Sheriff Mark Lamb
Sheriff of Pinal County Arizona
"[Aqua One] was just launched and is going to change the way that our children grow up in a technology-driven world."
Desire Briggs
Co-Founder of The Mama Army
“One of the neatest parts about the tool is that it gives insight into not only the safety of what my child is doing out there but what my child is thinking.”
Brian Steele
CEO of Phoenix Dream Center
“Being informed of your child's social media habits isn't just beneficial from a safety standpoint. You'll get an inside look at what your kid is into and enjoying.”
Larissa Marulli
moms.com
"It's encouraging to know that, as parents, you do not have to be left in the dark, you can be involved. That's quite a powerful tool."
Elizabeth Smart
Elizabeth Smart Foundation
"Helping parents prepare for the gamut of situations to which social media opens the door has made [Cyber Dive] venture more valuable than the bottom line."
Georgann Yara
azcentral
"If we're concerned about stranger danger... what about a stranger getting into your child's direct messages? It can be just as dangerous, if not more so."
Billy Harfosh
iHeartRadio
"In a society that relies so much on virtual connection, it is necessary that we teach our children how to navigate and use technology responsibly."
Dawn Van Vamp
Co-Founder of The Mama Army
"As a Lawman and a parent I love seeing solutions for protecting children from the child predators. This Aqua One phone helps parents and even addresses the mental health of the child. Well done Cyber Dive."
Sheriff Mark Lamb
Sheriff of Pinal County Arizona
"[Aqua One] was just launched and is going to change the way that our children grow up in a technology-driven world."
Desire Briggs
Co-Founder of The Mama Army
“One of the neatest parts about the tool is that it gives insight into not only the safety of what my child is doing out there but what my child is thinking.”
Brian Steele
CEO of Phoenix Dream Center
“Being informed of your child's social media habits isn't just beneficial from a safety standpoint. You'll get an inside look at what your kid is into and enjoying.”
Larissa Marulli
moms.com

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