Are You Parenting a Criminal?
Two-year-olds are really terrible, but are they criminal?
Two months before my daughter turned 2, I became convinced she was going to murder me in my sleep. She wasn’t threatening to kill me, per se, it was just her pattern of behavior. She would step on my toes for no reason. Once she walked up to me an kicked me in the shins and then laughed when I told her it hurt. Another time, I told her to eat a cookie and she threw it back in my face and then spent the next 15 minutes in time-out, sobbing about how she wanted to eat a cookie. I’ve watched a lot of crime dramas and I know this kind of behavior doesn’t bode well. I hid the knives and warned the neighbor’s cats. My toddler was a psychopath.
I even gave her a psychopath test.
An excessive need for novel, thrilling, and exciting stimulation; taking chances and doing things that are risky. Yes.
Expressions of irritability, annoyance, impatience, threats, aggression, and verbal abuse; inadequate control of anger and temper; acting hastily. No doubt.
A lack of feelings or concern for the losses, pain, and suffering of victims; a tendency to be unconcerned, dispassionate, coldhearted, and unempathic. Yes. Yes. Yes!
The results were actually chilling. A little redirection and some quality time with the time-out chair and she’s come out of this phase a little. She at least says “Sorry” when in the course of toddler events I get jacked in the eye and no cats died. Or at least any that I know of.
In an article from the New York Times, Dr. Tremblay, a developmental psychologist at University College Dublin in Ireland, compares toddlers to violent criminals. He notes that violent offenders act with the lack of empathy and impulse control of a toddler, but with the strength and resources of an adult. Violent criminals are, simply put, toddlers who never learned better. The solution, according to child development experts, seems to be early intervention with support and parenting training as “close to conception” as possible.
While it would be nice to believe that we can eradicate violence by simply parenting better. This solution presumes that violence is nurture and not nature. Another New York Times story from March of 2012, titled “Can You call a 9-Year-Old a Psychopath?” more adequately deals with the complicated nature of violence. The story followed a 9-year-old boy, who was destructive and extremely violent and his parents ineffective attempts to intervene.
The boy is an outlier to be sure. And there are significant differences between a violent offender and a sociopath, but blaming violence on childhood or inadequate parenting seems to be a red herring. Certainly, parenting and a trauma-free childhood play a factor, but to what extent is still unknown. The article made no mention of socioeconomic factors and how they play a role in violence. And the issue of gender (the cited studies only look at men) was passed off with a dismissive line that women simply have less instances of violence overall. But is that too nature or is it nurture? Is expecting violence from men a self-fulfilling prophecy? Clearly, there are a lot of questions and not many answers.
So, until science can sort it all out, I’m going to keep the knives hidden.
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