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Confessions: I am worried I could be raising a psychopath

He has already been in trouble with the police and this worries me (Photo: Courtesy)

Hi Chris,

My son is a difficult child and has always been. Now that he is a teenager he is behaving really badly. He has been stealing and lying, and he is completely self-centred and utterly indifferent to the consequences of his behaviour.

He has even hit me! Nothing I do seems to make any difference; he has already been in trouble with the police, and I am even beginning to wonder if there is something really wrong with him. Might he have some sort of personality disorder? Am I raising a psychopath?

Worried

Chris says,

Hi, Worried!

This situation is not easy to find answers to. However, you must realise that it is normal for children to behave badly at some point in their lives. They engage in stealing, lying, and hitting.

It may get worse in adolescence, so you are right to be worried because nearly all teens have aggressive moments. But if you are starting to have a horrible feeling that something is dreadfully wrong, then it probably is.

Watch especially for incidents of persistently hurting others, bullying or fighting; stealing or vandalising property.  Staying out overnight, playing truant, showing no guilt when told off, and a total disregard for other people’s feelings.

Blaming others even when they are obviously in the wrong, and unmoved by the threat of punishment. Be especially concerned if your child steals from you, taunts you as if he could not care less, or is cruel to animals.

It is a serious matter that your son's behaviour has come to the attention of the police. Watch for troubling activities on social media, like ranting, anger, isolation, disturbed thoughts and fixations; or a preoccupation with violence.

If you witness such behaviour, seek professional help. You will need support to tackle your boy, and he will also need specialist treatment to help him develop his impulse control, empathy, emotional and social skills.

Your contribution is to provide structure, love and attention. Positive reinforcement, encouragement, and attention are all hugely important. As is getting him to attend school regularly.

Not just for what he will learn there, but for the feeling of progress that school creates - that something better lies ahead if you work hard. None of this will be easy. At times, you will be at the point of despair. But with calm and consistent parenting you can win.

So when your child behaves badly, do not get into angry discussions. Just say, "you have done this…" and withdraw your attention from him. As soon as he stops whatever he is doing, turn back, and start acting normally again. That way, you only give him your attention as a reward for normal behaviour. It is hard to do, but it works, especially with the support of professionals. But you must start soon.

All the best,

Chris

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