Is your child showing psychopath behavior? Do they show signs of narcissism? Psychopathic children often lack empathy & remorse and can be highly uncaring, unemotional and mean.
Although most kids can be cruel at times, it doesn’t mean that they are antisocial. When it comes to children and psychopathy, there is no straight “yes” or “no” answer. Psychopathy is believed to be a continuum and we can observe certain elements in all children to some degree.
Can children be psychopathic?
If you are worried that your child may be a psychopath, then the first thing you need to know is that psychopathy is not an official mental illness. The term is widely used to explain a group of behaviors and traits that show an individual is cruel, uncaring and callous. This pattern is mostly identified as Antisocial Personality Disorder in psychiatric terminology.
Psychotherapist and bestselling author Amy Morin, LCSW explains that back in 2013, the American Psychiatric Association (APA) included the “condition ‘Conduct Disorder with Callous and Unemotional Traits’ for children ages 12 and over in its diagnostic manual, DSM-5. It’s a serious condition that reflects interpersonal deficits.” Such behavior can often be associated with dangerous behaviors.
Author Barbara Bradley Hagerty writes “Researchers shy away from calling children psychopaths; the term carries too much stigma, and too much determinism.” Professor Stephen Scott of the Institute of Psychiatry at King’s College London says that this condition in children is “largely unrecognised”. He adds “We don’t like using the word psychopath in under 18s, but there is a high continuity to becoming a so-called antisocial personality disorder with psychopathic traits.”
But psychopathic children with “callous and unemotional traits” are known to be aggressive, emotionless, cruel, lack empathy, guilt or remorse and are indifferent to punishment. Barbara adds “Callous and unemotional children have no trouble hurting others to get what they want. If they do seem caring or empathetic, they’re probably trying to manipulate you.”
What science says about psychopathic children
Psychopathy is not necessarily bad. In fact, having psychopathic and narcissistic traits in small doses can actually be helpful. Most business leaders and successful politicians are known to have narcissistic traits. However, when such traits are present in an extreme combination, then it can lead to the formation of a harmful antisocial individual.
Studies show that around 1% of children exhibit antisocial traits during their childhood. This can enable parents to identify signs of psychopathy when they are adults. But it can often be difficult for parents to identify psychopathic children as these kids can be highly smart and charming. They can imitate social cues to mask the warning signs and appear “normal”.
But these statistics can actually be higher than what current research shows. “Since mental health providers don’t use the label psychopath, however, the exact numbers aren’t known,” explains Amy Morin. Most of the mental health diagnoses often overlap with signs of psychopathy. Psychopathic children are often misdiagnosed with the oppositional defiant disorder, writes Amy. She adds “Then, during their teen years, they may be diagnosed with conduct disorder, which involves a persistent pattern of violating the rights of others and disregarding basic social rules.”
As a result, most children do not get the right treatment and often grow up to be dangerous adults. Barbara writes “More than 50 studies have found that kids with callous and unemotional traits are more likely than other kids to become criminals or display aggressive, psychopathic traits later in life.” However, researchers claim that a psychopathic child is not necessarily destined to become a murdering lunatic. It has been observed that 4 out of 5 children with callous and unemotional traits do not show any signs of psychopathy when they grow up.
This is why it is crucial to spot the signs of psychopathy in children early on and offer them help and treatment so that they can grow up to be decent human beings. According to a 2017 study, “A thorough knowledge of family interactions, easily available for paediatricians, is crucial for early identification as well for a therapeutic alliance with parents and children.”