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3/29/15blog post

does my kid not have a conscience?

Kids without a conscience are the most distressing children I see in my office. What concerns me about these youngsters is not that they will all end up in jail. In fact, many of them will be successful in a myriad of different careers.

The problem is that I really don’t know how to help them. By the early teen years, it is very difficult to add a conscience to a person’s character.

There’s no consensus regarding whether this problem is the result of defective chemistry or a bad environment.

Developmental psychologists correctly emphasize the critical importance of a young child’s first few years of life. Infants develop trust based upon the nurturing they receive from caring and consistent adults. The impact may be lifelong if that early parent-child bond is not established.

Some have questioned whether child-centered parenting is responsible for amoral kids. When parents focus exclusively on the needs and wants of their kids, children may fail to develop an appreciation for the impact of their actions on others.

This may cause narcissistic or egocentric children, but this parenting style does not result in psychopathic children.

The media portrayal of these kids, like the child-devil Damien in the “Omen” are greatly exaggerated but not entirely inaccurate. These kids don’t have a conscience to constrain their behavior. They may have an excellent understanding of the impact of their behavior on others, but they just don’t care.

They may be bright, engaging and quite socially skilled. However, they lack the empathy to conform their behavior to what’s good for others. Relationships are viewed as a means to an end. Their connections with others are superficial and manipulative.

These children are easy to identify by their preteen years. They typically exhibit problems with hurting animals, fire setting, and acts of violence. When corrected for their misbehavior, they have little concern for their impact on others. They tend to continue their behavior even when corrected for their misdeeds.

Their actions are calculated. They avoid misbehavior out of concern about how this will impact them, not out of concern for other people.

I’ve got to think that parenting style can impact these kids. Here’s what I’d pay attention to.

  • Loving, consistent and attentive caretakers, particularly in the first few years of life.
  • Frequent discussion of moral values. When you correct your children, don’t just focus on the punishment. Engage them in a discussion of how their behavior affects others. Encourage a normal and healthy sense of guilt for bad behavior.

Please seek professional help if your youngster is having any of the symptoms of a psychopathic child.