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April 24, 2006 - 11:49 am

Here is a brief story of a a href=”http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/10704045/?GT1=7938″twelve-year-old charged /awith the double murder of his mother and nine year old brother. I can only imagine the problems this family must have gone through prior to the killings. So many times, when kids this young have emotional problems with anger, people laugh, make light or think there is nothing to worry about. I once had a nine-year-old boy who threatened to kill his principal–I called the principal to warn him of the impending danger only to be laughed at and told that “no nine-year-old could be that dangerous.” It was 1996. Only after the rash of school shootings started and the principal found this young student waiting for him in his office, crouched behind his chair, did he follow up to ask for my help. Sometimes, people take the violent threats of children too seriously, but sometimes, they do not take them seriously enough. The hard part is knowing the difference.Too bad no one stopped this tragedy before it happened.br /br /strongUpdate/strong: Several commenters have asked some good questions about why young kids kill, if they can be treated and how to tell the difference between a threat and real violence. First of all, kids under 14 do not kill often–a href=”http://ojjdp.ncjrs.org/ojstatbb/offenders/qa03104.asp?qaDate=19990930″take a look /aat the stats from the Office of Juvenile Justice. However, when they do, there can be a variety of reasons. Some have been abused, some are mentally ill and some are just NDG (no damn good–the more sophisticated psychological term is psychopath) or maybe they are a combination of all three.br /br /The 12-year-old in this case was described by neighbors as “a bully” who told others not to mess with him–a href=”http://www.wjla.com/news/stories/0406/322056.html”because he was crazy/a:br /br /blockquoteTen-year-old Jasmine Williams describes the accused as “a bad kid” who would often hit people. br /br /Sixteen-year-old Kel Taylor says the boy would say – quote – “I’m crazy. Don’t mess with me.” /blockquotebr /br /I have found in my interviews with violent kids that many of them resort to saying they are crazy so that others will leave them alone or be afraid of them. However, in some cases, kids can just be Conduct Disordered–that is, they frequently display physical aggression towards others, have disturbed peer relationships, steal and lie. These cases are the hardest to change and those children who display persistent symptoms prior to puberty are more likely to develop adult Antisocial Personality Disorder and to possibly have more problems later in life. This is why as experts, forensic psychologists use instruments such as the a href=”http://www.hare.org/scales/pclyv.html”Hare Psychopathy Checklist/a–Youth Version, to determine the extent of a href=”http://www.crimelibrary.com/criminal_mind/psychology/robert_hare/5.html”psychopathy./a These instruments, interviews and other data help psychologists to assist the courts or agencies with recommendations on how dangerous a child might be (which is hard as violence prediction is not a hard science) and how to treat them. br /br /So what do you do to determine if a child’s threats are real or just words? Listen! Often kids will talk if they think you can stand hearing what they have to say. Case in point: kids often come in my office and say that the adults in their milieu get so upset or misunderstand their behavior that they shut down and/or just act out. If you hear kids saying upsetting things, get used to it. We are so afraid of anger in children that most adults shut down or get scared when confronted with anger that is so deep, a child will resort to murder. Some kids will talk “crazy” just to shock people but underlying this is, why is that important to the child? Find out. br /br /If you hear a child describe feelings of hopelessness, suicidal feelings, depression or anger that lasts longer than a few weeks, contact a professional psychologist, psychiatrist or social worker who specializes in children. Get recommendations from parents at school or church etc. who have had results from the professional. As experts with children, clinical child psychologists and other specialists can use psychological instruments to help get a snapshot of a child’s inner feelings and thoughts as well as if they may have suicidal or violent tendencies. br /br /I believe that suicide and homicide are intertwined at times, especially with kids who want to kill at school or commit mass murder (again, rare) and the truth is that these kids hurt and they figure they will take down all the others who made them feel this way. The school stands for everyone who has done them wrong (whether real or imagined) and they conclude that the only way to deal with their angry feelings is to bring them to a climatic conclusion. These cognitive thoughts must be addressed in order to help the child cope with the world around them. Sometimes these children have poor interpersonal skills and view the world in a very weird and idiosyncratic way. Yes, it is fine to be eccentric and odd but to be this way and think that killing others is the answer is not a good coping strategy. The community and milieu the child is in is also important to address–is the commmunity letting the child get away with delinquent acts? Is the school allowing bullying to take place or engaging in hypocritical behavior and rules (such as all those fighting are suspended without finding out what happened?)br /br /Finally, if you see a kid in your community who is a troublemaker and engaged in delinquent acts, do not think you are doing anyone a favor to keep it to yourself or ignore the behavior. Try calling the Juvenile Court and reporting the unruly behavior–at least there will be a record. One of the problems is that there is little recourse for parents like the mother in the above case–parents tell me all of the time that their 11 or 12 year old is threatening to kill them and no one will do anything. As a parent, you can try to get help through the Juvenile Court in your town or call and see if they have a clinic or services that you could seek out to assist with an unruly child. The best management is someone who can be a liason between home, community and school. If problems are dealt with early on, the kid and those in their path will have less chance of becoming involved in a violent act that may have consequences for years to come.

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