Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

The Unthinkable: Children Who Kill

Signs of Danger

It's clear that children who grow up around violence are at risk for pathological development. Infants and toddlers need to develop trust and a feeling of safety in order to have a healthy development.  If they don't have good relationships in the home, they will have a harder time outside the home.

Then during the school years, children develop the social skills they need to function as adults.  Violence hinders this.

  • Lack of safety harms cognitive functioning
  • Children who live in fear often repress their feelings, which hinders their ability to empathize
  • Children exposed to violence have a difficult time concentrating
  • Feelings of helplessness pervade the lives of those who are abused
  • Constant stress in the environment produces symptoms of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder

There is a relationship between certain factors and the risk of future violence among adolescents:

  • Past violent behavior
  • Substance abuse
  • Aggressive peers
  • Family aggression
  • Social stress
  • Character or mental disorders
  • Access to weapons
  • Focused anger
  • Low degree of resilience

During the first three to nine months, an infant develops bonds with the parent.  Some infants are easy, some difficult.  Parents must deepen this bond, because a strong factor in the development of antisocial behavior is the child's lack of connection with others.

Self-worth, resilience, hope, intelligence, and empathy are essential to building character for effective impulse control, anger management, and conflict resolution.  Without these skills, children cannot establish rewarding relationships with community systems.

While a born psychopath may have neurological disorders that defy every treatment, it still seems to be the case that many criminals with certain psychopathic traits may be turned toward something pro-social with the right nurturing.

Kids who kill to solve their problems solve nothing.  Society needs to grasp the fact that children can form intent to kill, whether or not they understand what they're doing.  They can kill without knowing that it's final, so they need to be taught what it means on television and in videogames to take the life of another person.  Any signs of lack of empathy or value of another person's life needs to be caught early and treated, not ignored.  Through programming, we're teaching kids to kill with accuracy and to think of killing as an appropriate means to an end.  Since it's unlikely that the programming will change significantly (because violence sells), we need to attend better to the danger signs and to get intervention.