Happily Ignorant

by Sonny Bunch on December 15, 2012

I recently revisited the piece in the New York Times on child psychopaths, and was struck by this quote:

John Edens, a clinical psychologist at Texas A&M University, has cautioned against spending money on research to identify children at risk of psychopathy. “This isn’t like autism, where the child and parents will find support,” Edens observes. “Even if accurate, it’s a ruinous diagnosis. No one is sympathetic to the mother of a psychopath.”

I’m sorry, but that strikes me as insanely irresponsible. Think about what he’s saying here: It’s better to protect the feelings of the mother of a psychopath than to protect society from the rages of said psychopath. Not only should we make every effort not to incorrectly identify a child as a sociopath (which strikes me, and everyone else, as eminently reasonable)—we shouldn’t even try to identify psychopaths as early as possible. Yikes. I guess we’ll just wait until, well:

Paul Frick, a psychologist at the University of New Orleans who has studied risk factors for psychopathy in children for two decades, described one boy who used a knife to cut off the tail of the family cat bit by bit, over a period of weeks. The boy was proud of the serial amputations, which his parents initially failed to notice. “When we talked about it, he was very straightforward,” Frick recalls. “He said: ‘I want to be a scientist, and I was experimenting. I wanted to see how the cat would react.’ ”

In another famous case, a 9-year-old boy named Jeffrey Bailey pushed a toddler into the deep end of a motel swimming pool in Florida. As the boy struggled and sank to the bottom, Bailey pulled up a chair to watch. Questioned by the police afterward, Bailey explained that he was curious to see someone drown. When he was taken into custody, he seemed untroubled by the prospect of jail but was pleased to be the center of attention.

I mean, I’m sad that toddler drowned. But at least that mother never would’ve had to have been shamed by the fact that she was raising a psychopath.

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Rob Crawford December 17, 2012 at 4:04 pm

The “we must not stigmatize [some group]” argument just doesn’t hold water with me. It’s certainly not a parent’s fault their child just isn’t wired up right — unless there’s been abuse of some sort — but perhaps there should be some shame in not getting your kid help? In sheltering someone who’s a danger to others?


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