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selfharmUK is an organisation dedicated to improving the lives of young people affected by self-harm, as well as providing training, information, resources and advice to teachers, parents, youth workers and other professionals. 

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Boys and self-harm: facts and tips

Image: Durant Weston

The number of boys self-harming is rising. Here’s what parents need to know

Figures suggest that rates of self-harming among young people are on the rise. And while girls are more likely to be affected, rates for boys are increasing substantially. Yet, because the way they self-harm is different, it sometimes isn't recognised, so getting treatment can be difficult.

The majority of young people admitted to hospital for self-harm are girls (59551), but experts are warning against assuming that self-harm is a problem that only affects young women. The more we think boys don't self-harm, the less likely we are to spot it when it happens.

We’ve assembled these tips to help parents understand and deal with this complex issue.

The facts

  • Boys are less likely to report having a problem and so are less likely to receive support and treatment.
  • The ways in which boys and girls generally experience self-harm may vary. Boys might hit or punch themselves or hit objects, for instance, to deal with their emotions. These are all examples of self-harm, but hospitals and professionals might not always categorise them like that – which can lead to underreporting of self-harm by boys.
  • ​Unexplained cuts, bruises, burns and other injuries may all be a sign that a person is self-harming. You may notice that your child always wears clothes that fully cover their body.
  • There are also a number of emotional and behavioural warning signs: low self-esteem, decreased motivation, relationship problems and wanting to be alone more than usual could all indicate that something is wrong.

How you can help

Discovering a young person you care about – boy or girl – is self-harming is frightening and incredibly worrying, particularly if you have no previous knowledge of self-harming. The first thing to remember is to try to stay calm. Try not to jump to conclusions about what lies behind it.

Speak to your GP – they can provide treatment and referrals to specialists, and should be used to discussing sensitive medical issues. You or your child may also be able to call an anonymous helpline to speak to a professional if it’s too difficult to have the conversation face to face (see Further reading and help, below.)

In today’s digital world, when parents discover a serious issue with their children, it can be tempting to assume their online activities are to blame and to demand access to their accounts and devices to see what they’ve been up to online.

Your child may, in fact, be finding important support for their problems through forums and online discussion groups. Experts say surveillance of young people’s digital lives may actually make the situation worse.

‘Help them find trusted support and information online’

Emphasising trust and communication with your child is likely to be more effective, so help them find trusted support and information online that they can access when they need to if they can’t face talking to you.

Further reading

Papyrus provides support for anyone dealing with suicide, depression or emotional distress, especially young people.

Self-harm: facts for parents.

Self-harm and children: information for parents from the Royal College of Psychiatrists.

Self-harm advice from Mind.

Need to talk?

Parents and any adult worried about a young person can call YoungMinds’ free and confidential Parents’ Helpline to speak to a trained advisor. Lines are open Mon-Fri, 9.30am to 4pm, covering England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

Call 0808 802 5544

The advice published on Parent Info is provided by independent experts in their field and not necessarily the views of Parent Zone or NCA-CEOP.

Updated: ​May 2018

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