Psychologists Are Trying To Identify & ‘Fix’ Budding Psychopaths As Young As 3 Years Old

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We Need To Talk about KevinWe all want our children to be good. We want them to make good choices, get good grades, and grow up to be good people. Lots and lots of good. And since parents are so concerned with making sure that our children are moral, upstanding human beings, it makes sense that we’re all a little scared of their bad behavior. We don’t want our children to be bad, often because we don’t want to think that we might be bad parents.

So can any of us, myself included, refrain from frantically reading about psychologist who claims to be able to spot the “bad eggs”? I mean really, who isn’t at least marginally interested in reading an article titled, “Is your child a psychopath?” The Daily Mail further sells the piece by adding, “It’s more common than you think – and you can spot the danger signs as young as three.” I could almost hear the piano afterwards playing, “Duh duh Duuuuh.”

Stephen Scott is a professor of child health and psychology and he’s the one who runs a program that’s aimed at identifying and treating mini-psychopaths. In all honestly, the program itself sounds interesting. The rehabilitation efforts for kids who have a hard time empathizing with others seems logical and impressive. What they call the TLC Project aims to help parents and children understand each other better and communicate in a way that both can process. Scott says the goal is “to get these children to understand the emotional components of interaction, to activate this centre in the brain that seems underactive.”

Honestly, the work they are doing sounds impressive and helpful for young children who have a hard time handling and processing emotion.

But psychopath? Do we really need to use the word “psychopath” for toddlers? It’s a word that instills so much fear and condemnation. I don’t understand why it’s necessary when we’re talking about young children who seem to need help recognizing and accepting feelings, both their own and in others.

Also, it’s hard to understand the criteria used to diagnose these children. Cruelty and selfishness are dangerous attributes, but they are also common in young children. There are times when my daughter pulls her dogs’ tails. I never understand why. If you ask her, she doesn’t seem to know why she did it. Sure the mutts are over 100 lbs a piece and she probably couldn’t injure them with a hammer, but it’s certainly not a loving choice. Does this mean that my daughter could be dangerous later in life?

And what is childhood if it isn’t selfishness? I know adults who still have a hard time accepting that the world doesn’t resolve around them. Most young children are just beginning to see things from another person’s perspective. They’re just learning to think about other people’s feelings. Scott says, “..there is little danger of confusing the average five-year-old scamp with the fledgling psychopath,” but we aren’t talking about educational testing, where the results are quantifiable and the labels are easily shed over time. I don’t think the label of “psychopath” is one that you get to test out of in a couple years.

I think we need to be much more wary of emotional and behavioral diagnosis in early childhood than we do of educational. I think terms like “psychopath” are dangerous to throw around. And I think that the blase way in which they can be used is often simply fearmongering for parents.

The TLC project sounds like an interesting approach to behavioral psychology for young children, but maybe it needs a lesson in marketing and a few less scare tactics. For parents whose children battle with issues like callous, unemotional traits, I’m sure that the problem doesn’t look like a movie starring Tilda Swinton. It’s a serious problem for these families, and they probably don’t need the term “psychopath” hanging over their heads.

(Photo: The Movie Report)