How many signs would you need from an adolescent to convince you that he or she could develop into a sociopathic adult? What specific incident or incidents would cause you to identify a teenager as a developing sociopath?
- Set fires, play with fire: Children will be children. Teens will be teens. Sometimes they exhibit behaviors that are just difficult for them to grow out of and that cause the family a lot of stress. But then there are other kids who simply enjoy watching things burn up; setting curtains, bedding, or other household items ablaze. Pyromania is often the technical term for individuals who enjoy the sight of fire. Some kids, very much like adults who struggle with addiction, are addicted to the act of setting things on fire. For these kids, the continual act of setting things on fire will require the professional attention of a mental health therapist. Just telling these kids to stop is often not enough.
- Harm pets: I have spoken to parents who were very disturbed by an incident involving their child and their pet (or a pet). Children who are developing sociopathic traits engage in harming pets, typically the family dog or cat. I have observed kids who intentionally harm animals out of sheer hatred, opposition to a rule or expectation of an adult, sexually inappropriate fantasies, or fun. Examples of harming pets include squeezing them too tightly in an attempt to choke the animal, physically assaulting the animal, being intimate with an animal, refusing to feed the animal, or teasing or taunting the animal.
- Steal: As stated above, kids often engage in behaviors and habits that are difficult to break. But some kids seem more interested in associating with peers who enjoy assaulting the public with inappropriate behaviors such as stealing. Examples of stealing include stealing money, food, or other items from the community, home, or school environment. Some kids may choose to steal from elderly people, other kids, or strangers in the community. Some kids may also plan how they will steal from someone and decide on what items to steal. The stealing behavior is calculative.
- Frequently lie: Pathological lying is a topic that I often discuss with clients and readers of my blogs and articles. It is a topic that many people find interesting. Sadly, there isn’t a lot of research on child and adolescent pathological lying. However, I do discuss this topic in more depth here. Lying behaviors in children and teens may include lying about homework, lying about others, or changing bits and pieces of a story to make part of it true and the other part a lie.
- Engage in calculating, manipulative behavior with the intent of harming others: Kids and teens who calculate and manipulate in order to harm others are often the most frightening. Why? Because they are cloaked with the innocence of their youth and are often given the benefit of the doubt by adults. Who would want to see their own child or adolescent as one with evil intent? But it is important for you to understand that some kids and teens are genetically “pre-wired” to possess manipulative and calculating behaviors and thought patterns. For example, juvenile sex offenders are often asked, in therapy, to discuss how they planned to sexually assault their victim. Some juvenile sex offenders have expressed that they “groomed” their victim (treated the victim kindly) before they offended them. These offenders knew that with kindness they would ultimately get what they wanted.