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Children's Health

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Study: Self-Injury Common in Grade School

Close to 8% of 3rd Graders Have Engaged in Self-Harm
WebMD Health News

June 11, 2012 -- Self-injury is a common emotional disorder among teens and young adults, and now new research confirms that young children also injure themselves on purpose.

In one of the first studies ever to assess self-injury rates among children as young as age 7, close to 7% of 3rd grade girls and 8% of 3rd grade boys said they had self-injured at some point in their lives.

In past studies, self-injury rates have been reported to be as high as 20% among high-school-aged teens and almost 40% among college students.

Self-injury was defined in the new study as cutting, carving, burning, piercing, or picking at the skin, or hitting oneself to cause pain, but not death.

Cutting Most Common in Older Girls

Interviews with 665 children and teens between the ages of 7 and 16 revealed key differences in patterns of non-suicidal self-injury by age and gender.

Among the major findings:

  • Prior to high school, boys were as likely to self-injure as girls. But by ninth grade, girls were three times more likely to report the practice as boys.
  • Girls were four times as likely as boys to report cutting or carving the skin as their method of self-injury, while boys -- especially younger boys -- were more likely to report self-hitting.
  • 1.5% of the children interviewed reported engaging in non-suicidal self-injury at least five times over the previous year.

The study did not examine whether self-injury is more common among teens and younger children than it once was, but researcher Benjamin L. Hankin, PhD, says it is generally agreed that it is.

"The study of self-injury is relatively new, so we don't really have good data to confirm it, but just about everyone who treats these children will tell you this alarming behavior is on the rise," the University of Denver associate professor of psychology tells WebMD.

Self-Injury Awareness May Add to Problem

Steve Pastyrnak, PhD, division chief of pediatric psychology at Helen DeVos Children's Hospital in Grand Rapids, Mich., says increased awareness of self-injury and greater attention from the media may be contributing to the problem.

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