Monday, January 30, 2006

Teens Teaching Teens to Cut, Starve, and Choke Themselves

The February 2006 issue of Reader's Digest has an article that youth workers and parents should read. It's about the rising number of American teens who practice various forms of self-injurious behavior such as cutting, anorexia, and nearly asphyxiating themselves to induce a drug-like high by cutting off oxygen to the brain. Though the article does not frame things theologically, it vividly illustrates the role that socialization plays in sin's outworking. According to one pediatrician quoted in the article, "These practices are spreading like wildfire because of the Internet."
Psychologists, pediatricians and youth counselors contend that under the radar, hundreds of websites and chat rooms are fueling an explosion of self-destructive practices considered in vogue by a surprising number of kids. They swap techniques about how to injure themselves -- and, like Joel and Caitlin, keep it all hidden from their parents.

"Clearly, the Internet is a major tool for good," says Ken Mueller, co-director of, an informational website about youth culture. "But as we're seeing now, it can also lead to great harm. Kids become addicted to these sites, and suddenly behaviors that used to be considered taboo are no longer hidden, which makes them seem more acceptable -- even cool."
If the statistics offered in this piece are credible, this is an issue that the church will be facing with greater frequency. One resource I'd recommend as an introduction to the subject from a theological perspective is a booklet authored by Ed Welch called Self-Injury: When Pain Feels Good. Welch explores the various things self-injurious behavior can be saying (e.g., "I am guilty. I must be punished," "I am angry," "I can't feel this way any longer; hurting myself is the only way to stop my feelings") and shows how all of them point to God and how the gospel offers real hope to those enslaved to these self-destructive patterns of living. Addressing the objection some might raise to the suggestion that self-abuse is at root a spiritual issue, Welch writes:
This seems like a harsh way to explain the possible inner workings of self-injury, but if we really believe that self-injurers share a bond with those who don't purposely injure themselves, we would expect self-injurers to have a lot of "self" motivating their behavior. We all do! Scripture consistently reminds us that our greatest problem, even more than Satan himself, is our selfish desires (James 4:1-3). Pride and self-interest tend to rule our hearts. Contrary to what we may think, self-love is never a biblical command. The command is that we love others to the degree that we love ourselves (Matt. 19:18).
I touched on the topic of self-love in a recent post which, if you missed, you can find here.

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