During the stressful teen years, most adolescents experience emotional highs and lows, but for more than 20 percent of teenagers, their worries and sad feelings turn into something more serious, like anxiety or depression. Studies show that 13 percent to 18 percent of distressed teens physically injure themselves via cutting, burning or other forms of self-harm as a way to cope with their pain.
Recent research and clinical psychologists now suggest that some adolescents are engaging in a newer form of self-aggression — digital self-harm. They’re anonymously posting mean and derogatory comments about themselves on social media.
Child psychologist Sheryl Gonzalez-Ziegler of Denver says it’s a growing problem among teens whom she counsels. One recent client, an adolescent girl, told Gonzalez-Ziegler that she anonymously cyberbullied herself because, as a gay teen, she felt vulnerable and exposed.
“She set up ghost accounts on Instagram and posted mean comments about herself, saying things like, ‘I think you’re creepy and gay’ and ‘Don’t sit next to me again,’ ” Ziegler says.
“She said these things because she feared being mocked by her peers,” the psychologist explains. “She thought their teasing wouldn’t be so bad if she beat them to the punch.”