Social Ties Cut Both Ways: Self-Harm and Adolescent Peer Networks

  • Molly CopelandEmail author
  • Sonja E. Siennick
  • Mark E. Feinberg
  • James Moody
  • Daniel T. Ragan
Empirical Research


Peers play an important role in adolescence, a time when self-harm arises as a major health risk, but little is known about the social networks of adolescents who cut. Peer network positions can affect mental distress related to cutting or provide direct social motivations for self-harm. This study uses PROSPER survey data from U.S. high school students (n = 11,160, 48% male, grades 11 and 12), finding that social networks predict self-cutting net of demographics and depressive symptoms. In final models, bridging peers predicts higher self-cutting, while claiming more friends predicts lower cutting for boys. The findings suggest that researchers and practitioners should consider peer networks both a beneficial resource and source of risk associated with cutting for teens and recognize the sociostructural contexts of self-harm for adolescents more broadly.


Self-harm Social networks Adolescence Peer networks 



We thank the members of working groups at Duke and PSU for their helpful comments and acknowledge the contributions of study participants, families, and the PROSPER staff to making this project possible.

Authors’ Contributions

M.C. contributed to study design, conducted analyses, wrote the manuscript and contributed to revisions; J.M. generated the networks; S.E.S., M.E.F. and J.M. contributed to study design, interpretation, and revisions; D.T.R. participated in revisions of analyses and draft. All authors read and approved the final manuscript.


This research is supported by grants from the W. T. Grant Foundation (8316) and National Institute on Drug Abuse (R01 A018225) to D. Wayne Osgood. The analyses used data from PROSPER, a project directed by R. L. Spoth, funded by the National Institute on Drug Abuse (R01 DA013709) and co-funded by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism.

Data sharing and Declaration

Due to the sensitive nature of data collected, the dataset is not available for public use at this time.

Compliance with Ethical Standards

Conflict of Interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

Ethical Approval

The procurement of the data required for this study was approved by the Iowa State University and Pennsylvania State University institutional review boards.

Informed Consent

All youth and families were informed about and consented to participate in the data collection for this project.

Supplementary material

10964_2019_1011_MOESM1_ESM.docx (32 kb)
Supplementary Information


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC, part of Springer Nature 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of SociologyDuke UniversityDurhamUSA
  2. 2.College of Criminology and Criminal JusticeFlorida State UniversityTallahasseeUSA
  3. 3.Edna Bennett Pierce Prevention Research CenterPennsylvania State UniversityUniversity ParkUSA
  4. 4.King Abdulaziz UniversityJeddahSaudi Arabia
  5. 5.Department of SociologyUniversity of New MexicoAlbuquerqueUSA

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