Can a child be a psychopath?

Discussion in 'The Fire Hydrant' started by Miakoda, May 15, 2012.

  1. Miakoda

    Miakoda New Member

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    Abnormal Psychology has always been an interest of mine (I have a minor in Psychology), and this topic on children has always saddened and yet interested me.

    WARNING: This article is disturbing, and the video is pretty much mind-numbing.



    Can a Kid Be a Psychopath?

    The groundbreaking HBO documentary "Child of Rage" years ago showed how horrific abuse and neglect could leave a child unable to bond with other people, turning them into children "without conscience, who can hurt or even kill without remorse." In other words: the child becomes a psychopath.

    But what about the kids who aren't abused? What about the ones who, for no discernible reason, do horrible things to other people?

    "I've always said that Michael will grow up to be either a Nobel Prize winner or a serial killer," his mother, Anne, tells Jennifer Kahn in a recent shocking New York Times Magazine article. At age 9, her son has an extreme temper, lashing out violently and deliberately and showing no empathy or remorse. He's intelligent, cold, calculating, and explosive. "It takes a toll," she says, explaining her comment. "There's not a lot of joy and happiness in raising Michael."

    Experts are divided about whether it's right to label a child as a psychopath. On the one hand, their brains are still developing; since psychopathy is largely considered untreatable, such a label would carry a heavy, life-altering stigma. On the other hand, identifying "callous-unemotional" children early could allow for successful treatment -- or at least a heads-up to society.

    But reaching such a diagnosis can be tricky. Certain tendencies, like narcissism and impulsiveness, that are obvious signs of a psychopath are also part and parcel of childhood. And callous-unemotional kids are often extremely intelligent; they're able to lie and manipulate without remorse, making it harder to understand what they're doing and why. "They don't care if someone is mad at them," Paul Frick, a psychologist at the University of New Orleans, told the New York Times. "They don't care if they hurt someone's feelings."

    "If they can get what they want without being cruel, that's often easier," adds Frick, who has spent 20 years studying risk factors for psychopathy in children. "But at the end of the day, they'll do whatever works best."

    The New York Times article mentions the case of 9-year-old Jeffrey Bailey Jr., who in 1986 pushed a 3-year-old into the deep end of a Florida swimming pool and then pulled up a chair to watch the child drown; after the toddler died, Bailey got up and went home. It's a disturbing crime -- and there are other equally disturbing cases of young kids committing cold-blooded murder.

    -In 1993, Jon Venables and Robert Thompson, both 10 years old, took 2-year-old James Bulger by the hand and led the trusting toddler out of a shopping mall in Liverpool, England. Once away from the mall, they spent hours torturing him before beating him to death, reports said.

    -In 1998, Joshua Phillips' mother was cleaning his room when she discovered the dead body of their 8-year-old neighbor, Maddie Clifton, under his bed. The 14-year-old Phillips says he accidentally hit the girl in the eye with a baseball bat and then panicked when she screamed, so he took her to his room and beat and then stabbed her until she stopped.

    -Alyssa Bustamente was 15 when she confessed to luring her 9-year-old neighbor Elizabeth Olten into a nearby forest and killing her in 2009. "I strangled them and slit their throat and stabbed them now they're dead," Bustamante wrote in her diary at the time. "It was ahmazing. As soon as you get over the 'ohmygawd I can't do this' feeling, it's pretty enjoyable. I'm kinda nervous and shaky though right now. Kay, I gotta go to church now...lol." In February, she was sentenced to life in prison.

    -Eric Harris -- who, with his friend Dylan Klebold, killed 13 people and injured 24 others when they opened fire at Columbine High School in Colorado in 1999 -- had several of the hallmarks of being a psychopath. As ABC News points out, he was described as "controlling, manipulative, and sadistic, but very much in touch with reality."

    "Psychopaths don't feel guilty because they are blind to guilt," Frank Ochberg, a former FBI psychiatrist who led the counseling team after Columbine, told ABC News. And, unlike with psychosis (when people are delusional or out-of-touch with reality), psychopaths know exactly what they're doing -- they just don't care how it affects others.

    It's not as if these kids simply lack a moral compass. In "Child of Rage," 6-year-old Beth opens her blue eyes wide and calmly tells her psychiatrist how she'd like to hurt, and even kill, her adoptive parents -- a Methodist preacher and his wife -- and her biological brother. She's calm and conversational as she describes how she has deliberately harmed and killed animals, how she drives pins into her brother and sexually molests him, how she repeatedly slammed his head into a cement floor and only stopped because someone caught her.

    Beth suffered extreme physical and sexual abuse and neglect by her biological parents, which experts say could explain her detached, calculating demeanor and her lack of "a sense of conscience." (She now claims that she was "healed" by the time she was 7 or 8, thanks to intensive therapy.) But Michael, in the New York Times Magazine article, seems to have grown up surrounded by love and affection.

    So if nurture (or a lack of it) isn't the only way a person becomes a psychopath, how much does nature have to do with it? Some experts say that psychopathy, like other mental illnesses, may have a genetic component; others think that it is a neurological condition all its own, like autism is, though it's not part of the autism spectrum. Though some psychologists believe one can start seeing psychopathic traits as early as age 5, there is not yet a definitive test for children that young.

    "You're not born a psychopath but the foundation is there," Robert Hare, a professor emeritus of psychology at the University of British Columbia and author of "Without Conscience: The Disturbing World of the Psychopaths Among Us," told MSNBC. He has developed specialized checklists to determine whether people age 12 and older show psychopathic tendencies. "We're all born with temperaments that can be shaped by the environment."

    What do you think? Can a young, seemingly innocent child be a psychopath -- and are they just born that way?

    Click on link for video:
    http://shine.yahoo.com/parenting/kid-psychopath-221400341.html
     
  2. Renee750il

    Renee750il Felurian

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    Yes. I absolutely believe a child can be a psychopath by nature. Like anything else, we are subject to being hardwired wrong from the very beginning, and I have to think that we see more of it than previously because of the exotic melange of pharmacopeia (both street and legal) and even the chemicals we're bombarded with everyday.
     
  3. Romy

    Romy Taxiderpy

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    Well, if some accounts of Josef Stalin's childhood are true... I've often wondered if he didn't arrive here on earth that way.
     
  4. Miakoda

    Miakoda New Member

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    The evidence supports it, but it is still a very harrowing thing to imagine. And as a mother, I don't think there are words to describe the feelings one would go through.
     
  5. Lyzelle

    Lyzelle New Member

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    Psychology is an interest of mine, too, but I really don't know about this. I guess some people can be born that way, I think some things are genetic, and it could do with how you were raised as well.

    For example, my biological grandfather is in jail for rape and murder. His daughter, my mother, is a very narcissistic person. She married my biological father, who was also a very messed up person, but who knows "what" he was, besides definitely a pathological liar. Otherwise, it could have been anything. He was mentally, physically, and emotionally abusive. When my mother divorced him and married the second guy, he was bi-polar, and also mentally abusive, controlling, etc. Then he died, so she married his step-son's friend, and he's Army...also a jerk. Don't know if he has something legitimately wrong in his head, but he's controlling, abusive mentally...the kind of guy who can make you feel guilty and wrong for anything, and then constantly threatened.

    But needless to say, my brother and I were pretty messed up as kids(well, I guess technically he is still a kid). He was diagnosed with ODD, but my mother never bothered taking me to a psych, and I've never been to one. He apparently doesn't have a conscience, that little voice that warns you to not do something. He doesn't appreciate consequence, either. So when he is violent, he is violent. And when he wants to do something, he does it. And he has no guilt or shame over it, and projects it onto others. He was rude and got his skateboard taken away...that was someone else's fault. He wasn't actually murderous, but I guess how something like that could easily take over. And I guess our biological father was like that in many ways. Pathological Liar....No conscience...I could see how they might be connected.

    So I could see how it might be genetic, or it might be how you were raised.

    Just another reason to not have kids!
     
  6. Renee750il

    Renee750il Felurian

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    We have all seen dogs who were born with something wrong in the hardwiring, and other animals. Physiologically, we ARE animals, and subject to the same hazards.

    I can't imagine what it would be like for a mother to have to face that about her child though . . .

    There have been people I have had to deal with who, when I looked in their eyes, had nothing behind them but cold emptiness.

    Lyzelle, there is a specific part of the brain that inhibits impulsive behaviors. It doesn't fully develop until late, or even after the teens, so yes, your brother (and his father) could very well have had some sort of damage to that part of the brain.
     
  7. Romy

    Romy Taxiderpy

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    It would be heartbreaking. I can't imagine it either, and am thankful every day for my sweet compassionate children.

    I can't find anything online about it, but was watching a documentary once about Stalin. They said that the reason Stalin's mom sent him off to a theological school to be taught by monks was because she couldn't get him to stop beating up other kids and mutilating animals and she hoped they could teach him to be kind. Granted, his dad was a violent alcoholic so who knows if it's learned behaviors or if is dad was wired wrong too. There are plenty of children raised by violent alcoholics who don't go around fighting people and mutilating animals though.

    Man, every time I look at his biography my heart breaks for his mom. You can see how hard she tried with him and how she had no support from his dad through it all.
     
  8. Bailey08

    Bailey08 New Member

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  9. ACooper

    ACooper Moderator

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    THAT is a very good reason not to label a child a 'psychopath' It's not uncommon for children to be narcissistic and be concerned with only their feelings.......I go farther to say the majority are. While I agree they can be born/hard wired that way and never change, it's also something that could be outgrown. Keep an eye open, provide counseling, but to firmly label is (IMO) a dangerous thing.

    I always think back to the movie based on the true story of cheerleaders who committed armed robbery (can't remember the name of it) When they were arrested, they were concerned if they'd be released in time for cheer practice :eek: Seriously.......they couldn't comprehend the magnitude of what they'd done nor the consequences.

    Some kids understand consequence sooner and better than others, but many have to mature into it, which makes it so incredibly difficult to separate actual mental issues from immaturity.
     
  10. Renee750il

    Renee750il Felurian

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    There's more, though, to psychopathic behaviors than lack of inhibition or the normal ranges of narcissism in children.

    We knew one of my cousins was way back, when he was 4 or 5 even. Whether his is nature or nurture or a tragic combination of both (as I would guess), is up for grabs, but he's finally been diagnosed as an adult. He could easily have become a sociopath. It was rather telling that from the time he was 8 or so his hero was Adolf Hitler.
     
  11. PWCorgi

    PWCorgi Priscilla Winifred Corgi

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    I watched "Child of Rage" a while back. That little girl is CREEPY, though she did end up leading a normal life (she even became a nurse) after being pulled from her adoptive parents home and being put into a live-in facility.

    I cannot imagine being a parent to a child like this.
     
  12. ACooper

    ACooper Moderator

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    Oh, I don't doubt there are true cases, and even some kids you know - that you know. But we all know the medical community as well as the public school system, once they start 'diagnosing' the fun don't stop! :(
     
  13. Miakoda

    Miakoda New Member

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    I was wondering what happened to her as she got older.
     
  14. Renee750il

    Renee750il Felurian

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    Boy, now there is TRUTH!

    "Better living through chemicals," my ass.
     
  15. Romy

    Romy Taxiderpy

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    Acoop, Bailey's link is really interesting because it talks about how they're trying to identify pre psychopathic children vs. normal children. Brain scans done on the symptomatic children show major structural differences between them and an average child's brain.

    The behavior of the disturbed kids is pretty extreme too (like shoving a toddler in a pool and pulling a chair up to watch because it's interesting to see someone drown...). They're hoping that through studying these kids and learning to identify them, they'll be able to develop therapies to allow them to feel empathy and guilt.

    The label issue is a prominent one. And they're right, that it's not true psychopathy at that age. The term they use for now is callous-unemotional.

    One specific issue brought up is how ritalin and other meds designed to control impulsiveness are very detrimental in treating a CU child, because one if their major traits is how manipulative they are. Even emotional outbursts are planned. Removing their impulsiveness just lets them refine their manipulation skills even more.

     
  16. Lyzelle

    Lyzelle New Member

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    Well, both our father and my brother are more impulsive. My father was more just plain crazy, like thinking everyone was out to get him, but that could be drugs too. And Bi-polar. But he could truly convince himself that something happened, when it hadn't. Or it started out as a lie, and then it became real. Delusional, I guess, but also manipulative. But my brother did care about others, he's always been extremely forgiving, loving, and nurturing to younger children, but he definitely always had the same manipulative and impulsive behavior as our dad. He was the kind of kid who WANTED to do right, but honestly didn't understand how. If you made him mad, he just went off the handle...no sense of "wrong" or scale of wrong, no sense of consequence. He's the type of kid that could touch a hot stove over and over....and expect a different outcome each time. Only with other people, and not a stove. On one hand, he wanted to behave, on another, he LOVED pissing people off. And above all else, he didn't seem to understand the outcomes of either. Also a kid that was bored easily. His regular teachers hated him and called him a devil child, but his advanced teachers loved him because he finished his work quickly and helped all the other kids. But he's mostly completely normal now. Impulsive, but what teenage boy isn't? So....is his just typical bored little boy misbehavior?

    And it definitely runs in the family. One of my cousins had a habit of holding us other kids underwater at family reunions...at the beach, in pools, where ever....because he "wanted to see what a dead person looked like". And my mom is narcissistic, more calculated than my dad's side. But she's also a middle child...so is it an attention thing? Or from her dad's actions? Genetic or acquired?

    It's really interesting to me, how much of it all might be genetic. And then you wonder why these people continue to breed....

    Maybe I should give up on all the chemistry and math I fail at so much and just study this sort of thing. Human behavior.

    But I read the Times article. That's really interesting to me. Disturbing, but interesting that such YOUNG children can act that way.

    Labeling is definitely dangerous, though....like you walk into a classroom of 30 kids, and the teacher says 20 of them are ADD or ADHD. I know the schools in Mississippi get money for each kid they label, supposedly to go toward "programs" to help the kids, but, you know. It never happens. The school just hoards the money.
     
  17. PWCorgi

    PWCorgi Priscilla Winifred Corgi

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    Yeah, she was adopted by the woman who ran the live-in facility. I know there is a LOT of controversy surrounding their methods (it's like a very VERY strict NILIF system for people, from what I got out if it), and she doesn't have any actual education to my knowledge. But Beth ended up going to the University of Colorado and getting a degree in nursing.

    It would have been interesting to know what she would have turned out like is she had stayed where she was. To know whether it was the program she went through or if she would have just matured and become the "normal" person that she is today.

    Very interesting stuff.
     
  18. Lyzelle

    Lyzelle New Member

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    NILIF for humans....that's basically how we ended up raising my brother. He had to "learn" to have a conscience. ODD stands for Oppositional Defiance Disorder. So I guess it would be a conduct disorder the article was talking about.

    But these kids are definitely freaky extreme.
     
  19. Miakoda

    Miakoda New Member

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    Maybe I'm wrong and morbid, but what better job to have to cause pain and suffering onto another, than that of a nurse-a person who has quite a bit of control and very rarely supervised by another in the room with him/her?
     
    Last edited: May 15, 2012
  20. PWCorgi

    PWCorgi Priscilla Winifred Corgi

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    I don't know if she actually practices. I know she does seminars and such with her adoptive mom. But I've never seen anywhere that she actually holds a nursing position at a hospital.

    Dunno.
     

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