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When Kids Torture Animals

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I recently read about the young man who was arrested for allegedly killing and mutilating 19 cats in a Florida suburb. Specific details are not available in each case, but CNN did report that one of the felines was eviscerated.

Tyler Hayes Weinman

Dr. Sophia Grant: Children frequently spend idle time trying to hit birds and squirrels with rocks and pebbles. In more rural areas of the U.S., boys are given guns to go hunting. However, those activities are markedly different from the systematic predation of domesticated animals that took place in Florida.

What type of person does something like that? As a pediatrician, I know that this kind of behavior did not happen overnight. My best guess is that the alleged perpetrator, now 18, has some type of conduct disorder that became manifest years ago. The fact that he has a juvenile record is no surprise. Cruelty to animals and people is one of the diagnostic criteria for conduct disorder. Other signs include deceitfulness, theft, destruction of property, including fire-starting, and rule violations such as truancy and running away.

So-called delinquent behavior typically arises from a chaotic home life. Sometimes harsh discipline is the norm; other times, no discipline may be a factor. Also contributing to these maladaptive behaviors is chronic exposure to violence and early and repeated exposure to physical or sexual abuse. Exposure to domestic violence is also correlated with conduct disorder. Frustration at not being able to protect the victim caregiver leads to aggressive or destructive behaviors. Simply put: violence begets violence.

It is important to note that transient episodes of misbehavior do not doom your child to a life of crime. Childhood psychiatric disorders may cause some conduct disturbances, but it is the enduring pattern of aggressiveness and persistent violation of others' rights that is a stronger predictor of future problems.

How, then, can we use this information to be better parents? First and foremost, we must strive to provide an emotionally stable home. Children need love, rules, and boundaries, all of which require active parental participation. Remote-control parenting does not work. In addition, we must protect our children from violence. Finally, do not ignore warning signs. Making excuses for your child only perpetuates the bad behavior and will never make your child accountable. A psychologist or psychiatrist is the best person to help.

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7 comments so far | Post a comment now
Monica June 18, 2009, 7:57 PM

I the dire future consequences is that we might have a serial killer on our hands. It is good that he was caught early so that he can get some help and hopefully rehabilitated.

tom June 18, 2009, 9:05 PM

I wouldn’t worry about it. President George W Bush blew up frogs. He turned out just fine.

Gail Cooke June 18, 2009, 10:32 PM

I’d be careful lumping all “disturbed kids’” home life as chaotic. Generalizations aren’t good….apparently sometimes psychopaths just happen. This “young man” needs to be locked in a ward, medicated and monitored.

tami June 19, 2009, 1:02 PM

What is wrong with this woman. Torture of animals is one of the three axis that can predict sociopathy.

loan December 12, 2009, 3:13 AM

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Thad June 14, 2010, 7:24 AM

George W. Bush is the biggest sociopath of them all.

Liliana November 8, 2010, 10:24 AM

i know a child liked that its a little 4 yr old girl she is really bad she tortures dogs kicking them putting them in bags dragging by their legs not only that but she like to hit children as well i have a little she always trying to find to hit her with no one seeing her i dont know what to do she isnt my child but we are related by law.

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