Marv Penner: There's hope for 'Kids Who Cut'

Posted: May 5, 2008

Marv PennerMarv Penner has long been a trusted confidante for hurting kids and their families. Last summer, he began a project that would offer hope to the startling number of young people he knows who self-injure or "cut" to relieve their emotional pain. "It’s become an epidemic in the last five years," he says. "Something needed to be done."

Hope and Healing for Kids Who Cut is Penner’s fifth book and one of the first on the topic of self-injury from a Christian perspective. In it, he recounts dozens of stories both from kids he has worked closely with over the years and from anonymous "cutters" whose stories have been published on the Internet or elsewhere.

He still meets with and cares for many of the young people whose heartbreaking stories he shares, whether they are still cutting or have begun to overcome the problem. His office is "decorated" with various paraphernalia he has collected in his walk with hundreds of kids, and among it lie Xacto knives, pocket blades, and even a small plastic container filled with pills and broken razor blades…all belonging to kids who have demonstrated their commitment to stop cutting by entrusting Penner with their "equipment."

[My book] brings light to such a dark topic, but I don’t just want to explain it …It’s a book about hope.
Penner delves carefully into the world of those who self-injure by sharing their stories, revealing their pain, and defining self-injury—it is a desperate attempt to deal with the pain in their lives. "Bright red tear drops," Penner calls the blood that drips from a fresh cut. "Self-injurers seek to change how they feel by hurting themselves," he writes. "And most self-injurers will tell you it works."

He also explains what cutting is not: a fad, an extreme version of tattoos or lip rings, or a suicide attempt. Tattoos and lip rings typically constitute a bold statement of uniqueness or fashion sense, while the signs of cutting are typically hidden in shame underneath arm bands, bracelets, or long sleeves. A suicide attempt signals a desire to end one’s life, while a cutter desperately wants to live—to get through the pain or the numbness and feel good again. "The fact that they wince and that their blood flows reminds them that they are still alive—in spite of how they feel most of the time," he writes.

Hope and Healing for Kids Who CutHe then works through some of the tough questions of why kids cut, how it begins, and why they can’t or don’t want to stop. Then, more importantly, he devotes a great deal of space to how to help kids who self-injure—whether the reader is a teacher, youth worker, or parent. "When I can help you understand what drives [cutting], you can respond appropriately," he says. "[My book] brings light to such a dark topic, but I don’t just want to explain it …It’s a book about hope."

Penner has seen hope in the eyes of many of the broken kids he’s had the privilege of working with, and in this book, he has shared this hope and this privilege with his readers. "The only way to participate in the healing journey of a young person who is self-injuring is to enter their pain through deep listening, chosen empathy, and the declared willingness to live in the mess with them," he writes. "I invite you to be available and willing to be that ‘one person’ in the life of a young person who entrusts his or her story to you."

Hope and Healing for Kids Who Cut was released on April 23, 2008 by Zondervan.