Children as young as seven years old may be hurting themselves by cutting their skin or hitting themselves, a disturbing study in the journal Pediatrics reports.
The study, released online today, asked 665 kids aged seven to 16 if they had intentionally injured themselves—without wanting to commit suicide—during their lives. In all, 8 percent (53 children) said they had. Higher numbers were seen overall for girls (9 percent) than boys (6.7 percent).
The numbers are on a par, the researchers said, with self-injury rates among younger and older teens. Among the 53 kids who self-injured, 36 hurt themselves more than once.
How they inflicted those injuries varied by gender: Girls tended to cut and carve their skin while boys most often hit themselves. Other methods used to cause harm included inserting sharp objects into their skin or nails, picking their skin and burning themselves.
In a Reuters story, study co-author Benjamin Hankin of the University of Denver was quoted saying childhood may not always be the rosy time we think it is: "A lot of people tend to think that school-aged children, they're happy, they don't have a lot to worry about," he said. "Clearly a lot more kids are doing this than people have known."
The situation is serious enough to warrant medical evaluations in kids who deliberately hurt themselves, the researchers noted, especially considering that these types of self-injuries could be a precursor to an actual suicide attempt.