Dear Dr. Michelle:
I am concerned for my 12-year-old son. We have allowed him access to violent video games since he was about 10. My wife and I are aware of there being no substantial correlation between video games and violence. Several nights ago at the dinner table he asked what humans tasted like. We laughed it off at first. However, a few nights later he asked about it again. We are worried about his questions and what it could mean. Is this a phase or something for concern?
It is a good thing that your family can gather on a regular basis so that you can really listen to your son and engage him in conversation. Children need to be listened to and observed so we can praise and reinforce their positive behaviors and provide extra support or intervention, as needed. It is important that you are taking his question seriously, reflecting on what it means and noticing patterns.
To understand the actions you may need to take, I suggest that you start by reflecting on your son’s personality. Is he the type of child who likes to shock people or enjoys getting a strong reaction from others? Does he joke around a lot or make things up, and then say that he is just kidding? Is it possible that he is making these comments because he is motivated by getting a strong reaction through saying or doing silly things?
You can test this possibility by managing your own reactions to his comments:
- One option is to remain stoic and ignore his extreme comments. If he is making shocking statements to prompt a reaction, your non-reaction may deter him.
- Alternatively, you can provide the reaction he wants and see if it prompts him to move on to the next shocking topic.
If this is not your son’s usual personality, then a good course of action is to talk directly with him about his comments and your concerns. Specifically ask him why he is curious about this topic. Often children don’t know “why” they think, feel or behave the way they do, so you might need to ask him if his friends have been talking about this topic, or find out where he read about this topic and have him show you so you can see what information he has been exposed to, whether it’s a book, a zombie game or something else. If he really is just curious, remove the curiosity by making this conversation as normal as you can, and try to share as much appropriate information as you can. You might want to do a little online research before you talk. This approach should satisfy his curiosity and help him move on.
If you remain concerned, then it’s possible that your son may be displaying early psychopathic tendencies. Psychopathy is described as a chronic mental health disorder that involves abnormal and usually violent social behavior whereby the person lacks empathy, devalues life and the feelings of others, and can be highly secretive and cunning to seek personal gain at the cost of others. Such persons tend to be either highly charismatic and manipulative or extreme isolators.
While virtually all children exhibit some troublesome behaviors as they test the boundaries of what is socially acceptable – such as lying to avoid getting into trouble, saying or doing things to get what they want, or making bad choices in social situations with peers, these behaviors are not typically associated with psychopathy. Before jumping to the conclusion that your child’s curiosity is a sign of psychopathy, evaluate if other behaviors or patterns exist. Namely, concern would be in order if your son is displaying any combination of the following behaviors: highly secretive, hurting or killing small animals, extremely manipulative and charming, enjoys hurting other people’s feelings, gains pleasure by seeing others suffer or lose, or being an extreme isolator who has no friends and tries to avoid daily interactions with other people.
If, indeed, any combination of these behaviors exist I recommend you seek professional help for your son, including a psychiatric evaluation and psychological testing. To find a provider, search terms like “Psychological Evaluations for Children (City)”. When choosing a provider, choose one who has experience treating and evaluating psychopathic behavior and inform the provider exactly what you are concerned about so that they can choose the right level of testing and intervention. You should not share a diagnosis of psychopathy with your child. Rather, your goal should be to obtain an assessment that enables you to intervene and get your child appropriate treatment, if warranted.
Dear Dr. Michelle blog posts are informational in nature. The posts are not meant to take the place of consulting your physician, mental health professional, or other qualified health providers regarding your well-being or the well-being of others. Submitting a question does not establish a client/therapist relationship.
Submit Your Question on mental health and/or family relations to Dr. Michelle K. Murray.