What Is Digital Self-Harm?

What Is Digital Self-Harm?

As parents and educators, we’re taught to look for the signs of teens and younger children self-harming. We are supposed to look for small, linear cuts; unexplained injuries; mood changes; relationship changes; and behavioral changes. But what is Digital Self-Harm? What does Digital Self-Harm look like? And how can we prevent Digital Self-Harm with our children?

Digital Self-Harm is a relatively new term and is an alarming new trend. The term Digital Self-Harm is used interchangeably with Virtual Self-Harm, Cyber Self-Harm, and Self-Cyberbullying.

What Is Digital Self-Harm?

Digital Self-Harm is the use of social media for young people to “harm themselves,” or to be mean to themselves online.

In a recent study by Florida Atlantic University, Dr. Sameer Hinduja notes that Digital Self-Harm should be taken very seriously:

“Prior research has shown that self-harm and depression are linked to increased risk for suicide and so, like physical self-harm and depression, we need to closely look at the possibility that digital self-harm behaviors might precede suicide attempts… We need to refrain from demonizing those who bully, and come to terms with the troubling fact that in certain cases the aggressor and target may be one and the same. What is more, their self-cyberbullying behavior may indicate a deep need for social and clinical support.”

For a brief overview of the results of the study, watch this video, “The Internet Age’s New Cutting : Digital Self-Harm” from YouTube:


What Does Digital Self-Harm Look Like?

This can take on many forms, such as:

Digital Self-Harm can be prompted by “hard-to-handle” emotions, such as anger, anxiety, and jealousy. If an individual finds it difficult to feel themselves or their emotions, self-harm may be their way to provoke some sort of reaction.

How Can We Prevent Digital Self-Harm?

There are two main ways we can combat Digital Self-Harm in our families and schools: (1) parent & educator understanding, and (2) digital education & increased internet safety for young people.

Parent & Educator Understanding

Digital life is a part of a young person’s life now. Our responsibility lies in making sure young individuals know what good digital citizenship looks like and what the lasting effects of their digital identities can look like. Advice such as, “just stop going online” is not good advice in today’s world. It’s important, instead, to create the dialogue of how to use it responsibly and in positive ways.

Digital Education & Increased Internet Safety For Young People

In this article from the Center for Digital Paedagogik, Signe Sandfeld Hansen notes that in order to raise digitally-educated youth and to increase their internet safety, it’s important to foster an explorative approach by:

  • Strengthening young people’s resilience online in order to increase their safety,
  • Promoting information on what “faceless” communication means to social understanding,
  • Teaching young people how to behave in a positive manner in online communities,
  • Teaching young people to mold their digital footprints to their advantage, and teaching them how to be critical of online content, and acquiring an explorative approach.

Want to read more about Digital Self-Harm? Check out CPYU’s Digital Kids Initiative.


Smart Girl Society, Inc., is an Omaha-based nonprofit working to educate and inspire Smart & Confident girls, women, & families. Through educational workshops, civil outreach programs, and technology & social media research, we work with girls, parents, & educators to authenticity on social media and in real life. We educate how to remain safe on social media and how to avoid becoming a target of sextortion. We also inspire action for students to focus on their personal brand development, leadership, educational opportunities, and healthy social skills. Interested in learning more? Check us out!