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Editorial By Micheal J. O'Brien Updated Feb 2002

On the subject of the many recent killings done by children.

"The parents are at fault.   Society failed the child. 
The child was raised to be violent. The kid needs help.
The gun shouldn't have been left unsecured."

Where do you stand on this? Listen to what people are saying. No one seems to be blaming the child.

Well. That's a good defence. Force the jury to look at the crime in context. Hope to save the kid's life because unlike what that kid has apparently learned, any measure of quality life is worth whatever years of rehabilitation it takes to procure it.

For the defence, based on televised evidence, I would say there is no way to avoid a conviction. Who would even want to? That wouldn't be the purpose of a realistic defence strategy. The defence needs to focus on the level of conviction and the disposition in the event of a guilt finding of a capital crime. Because it is a child offender in adult court the jury has larger issues than the crime itself to look at. That's the job of the defence team which needs to aim at avoiding a capital conviction and save the kid's life so that whatever went wrong in the kid's development can be fixed, rehabilitated.

On the first part: The court and any court officer (lawyers, judges, investigators etceteras) has a responsibility to society to deal with this crime, prima facia, as well as in the context of the increasing occurrence of this very particular type of heinous crime, and thereafter the prevention of the crime. What's happening and why? Why is this recurring nightmare fodder for CNN coverage schedules on a near monthly basis now?

There are some theories about the problem. It is too easy for parents to allow unmonitored, non censured, multi-media entertainment to baby sit their children while the adults go off and do their 'me-first-me-only' thing. While parents put themselves first and ignore their kids' activities, those unmonitored and therefore (arguably) uncared-for-kids are exposed to an indecent amount of seemingly sanctioned violence every day in a fantasy world (TV, videos, video arcades, video games, theatres, internet, comics and even the 6:00 o'clock news.) that seems so real, so Ok, and so obsessively consuming that the child participants are not able to properly make the distinction deep in their psyche between fantasy and reality, therefore also right vs wrong.

Children spend more time with the TV or on the Internet than they do with their parents or acquiring an education.

My personal view is that all children, as they are born, are an unadulterated gift. Angels. Children are born without a propensity for violence so where does the physical antipathy come from? Adults. The first humans the children are compelled to bond with, the parents, are the source directly or indirectly. So, most parents are allowed the convenience of having Atari, Power Rangers, Lethal Weapon... oh.. a plethora of violent multi-media babysitters. And most kids are exposed to it. And too, most kids seem ok. Right?

Maybe so, but a larger number than ever, (I suspect) as many as one in five grow up with disordered characters.

What happens when the parent's contribution of seven minutes quality time per week doesn't get through to the kid because of some genetic predisposition, environmental, mental, emotional or medical condition(s)? No bond is formed.

Without human bonding beyond the umbilical chord, the kid is a two-dimensional monster lacking empathy and having no regard for anyone. People become mere objects, useful or disposable. --

And how are we programming these conscienceless angels?. Anything that goes into their minds from time of birth to a certain time later in their lives is what the parents put there, or allow to be put there. There has been something wrong with the proper function of this process and the society that has permitted it to go astray. That becomes more clear as society has increasingly complex problems with radically demonstrative youth, guns and violence. I mean, kids always were demonstrative. That's not the issue. The new element being introduced is extreme violence. One step further, this is not just violence but a form of violence that radically seeks attention. The jury must see that and deal with it -- on behalf of the accused child, would argue the defence.

From my observations I would say that the typical avenging or hateful killer stalks its victim and kills surreptitiously. One such "monster", in Oregon, not unlike other recent past incidents,  blew away its parents and then did a most horrifying public set of violence, oblivious to any social mores or the rights of others. Franticly public. Manically violent.  And a kind of rage that knows no bounds. An extreme, demonstrative protest by a warped mind. Is it irreparable? The finder of fact must seek to learn this first. (In the aftermath, can the therapists fix it?)

The kids' defence ought to put first the goal of psychiatric discovery which should examine the possibility of psychopathy or other serious personality disorder as opposed to the alternative answer, severe mental disturbance. So the court is first asked to send the kid away for some serious head shrinking and evaluation. Personality disorders are incurable. Mental disturbances are curable for the most part. Psychopathy, the most anti-social of the 12/13 PD's is now in one measure or another occurring at a rate of one-in-five or more within the current young population.

The defence and the prosecution will surely know that if this kid is unambiguously diagnosed as an APD/sociopath/psychopath, and if found guilty of the offence, then the appropriate penalty as set out by the criminal statutes must be administered. I don't know of any grounds for an argument for compassion although I would certainly make sure I did my job and searched that angle.

The community within which this kind of crime occurs must realize that it has evolved a process wherein it must, with increasing frequency, deal with child-committed capital offences and administer capital punishment (either death or life-imprisonment depending on the State) or in the alternative, remedy the cause. There is no cure for psychopathy. Future prevention is the only remedy.

Society can only do its best to manage the behaviour and minimize the impact. Society should be more focused on lowering the incidence. But who knows this? It is only at the more academic level of law enforcement (oxymoron) that this is understood, and that level has no voice. Parenting is still not the issue it should be.

Oddly, psychopathy is the number one threat to society and yet society does nothing to improve parenting skills. Caring for children seems to conflict with the "bigger, better, faster, more selfish" imperatives thrown at parents by a society driven by  money and success, personal self- empowerment and (dare-I-say-it) greed. This so-called 'success madness' in turn requires two-income families to drop their kids off at the day care or leave them unattended while the adults work their bones dry and then add to their time commitments the need for themselves to include more recoup-time, meanwhile, at the gym, at the golf course, at the pool hall, opera, theatre, whatever? do they truly know where their kids are? What their doing? I think not.

Children are born non-violent. They are a "tabula rasa" and as such are extremely vulnerable to the onslaught of media that is put in front of them. Angels. They have the right and the need to bond to loving, caring, sharing human beings. Denis Waitley recently wrote a book setting out a few parenting concerns that notes that the average American parents spend less than seven minutes alone, one-on-one with their child during a time when the child is responsive.

If "shrinking" the kid yields some other treatable kind of mental torment (Was he seriously abused? Brainwashed? Or emotionally troubled beyond the edge of functionality in the real world?) then the kid must be redeemed through rehabilitation. The penal system in the Scandinavian countries subscribes to a rehabilitative process that seeks a return to society after 8 years for treatable offenders, NEVER, for dangerous offenders. That too is society's responsibility for it's screw-ups.

I have thought about this and it scares the hell out of me. I hope very many people are giving it their best thought too. Carol O'Connor, you know, Archie Bunker, lost his kid to drugs. He says in a TV commercial, "Parents must do whatever it takes to get between their kids and drugs".  And he means it!  Should that apply to sanctioned violence as well? Guns?

On Parenting:
Over and over I ask why do we require that people have licenses to drive, or take exams to enter school, and yet we show no concern over the ability of a person to give life to and educate a child for the common good. We let children have children, put children back in homes that are unsafe in many forms, and wonder why they grow up to repeat the cycle. However, again comes the issue of individual rights vs. the common good. There are many who believe that no one has the right to tell them how to raise a child. I contend that there must be some baseline.

A child should be able to assert his independence and yet feel comforted by his parents guidelines and boundaries. I think that in an effort to make-up to kids for their non availability parents often give the child carte blanche and the child never learns what the ground rules are.

It's a difficult predicament. Parents want nice things for their children and themselves, too often themselves coming first. That does require a huge double income these days. Do we stay home to raise the children with a little less or do we farm them out to daycare to have a little more? It is an issue that parents have to address.           

Micheal J. O'Brien

-- 30 --

Personality Disorders

The following sets out typical traits of a personality disordered person. This is the type of suspect individual that law-enforcement professionals come into contact with most often while investigating criminal cases. That is not to say that all offenders have personality disorders, but it is certainly true that the behaviour of personality disordered persons is often anti-social and either borderline or fully criminal in nature and effect. Investigating such individuals can bring about the absolute height in frustration and consternation.

The general personality disorder characteristics observed in a clinical setting include:

An inclination to be demanding and non-compliant (actively or passively). For some of the personality disorders, this is apparent early in treatment; for others the non-compliance is evident only after early success in the therapeutic process (e.g. an individual with a dependent personality disorder, for whom continuing positive change would result in termination from therapy, who is unable to initiate or sustain self-responsible behavior).

A tendency to engage in over or under valuation of self as well as over or under  of others. Individuals with personality disorders often alternate between extremes (e.g. idealizing and then villainizing a spouse or therapist, or feeling superior to and then inferior to or unworthy of others).

A propensity toward manipulativeness with significant corresponding interpersonal dishonesty (e.g. suicidality in the service of binding a caretaker and preventing abandonment).

Difficulties in developing non-pathological attachments (e.g. seeking in a significant-other the "good parent," a shield against a hostile world, a caretaker who will make functioning as an adult unnecessary, a "you and me against the world" alliance).

A failure to accept and/or process corrective environmental feedback with an inclination to frame reality around self and self-needs without considering the reality of others. This behavior can leave others both bewildered and enraged as the personality disordered individual fails to receive, understand, or respond appropriately to feedback.

A lack of awareness of impact on others with a corresponding failure to assume responsibility for self. When confronted, personality disordered individuals will deny, minimize, distort, or counterattack in the face of criticism or demands for appropriate behavior.

A tendency toward self-defeating, self-damaging, or self-destructive behavior (e.g. self-mutilation, grandiose arrogance, provocative aggressiveness, failure to assert self, willingness to tolerate abuse, withdrawal and isolation).

Affective dysregulation, e.g., irritability, instability, or constriction.

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