Well, a lot of interesting responses to yesterday post about parental responsibility.  The prevailing opinion seems to be that parents should be held accountable only if their child exhibits problem behavior and no attempt is made to address the issue.  But then the question becomes: What do you do?  It’s an easy enough answer if you catch your kid hoarding guns and explosives but, oftentimes, the signs of psychosis are far more difficult to act upon.  Take this article for instance, sent my way by Robert Cooper this morning: http://www.nytimes.com/2012/05/13/magazine/can-you-call-a-9-year-old-a-psychopath.html?_r=0.  What do you do if you suspect your 9 year old is a psychopath?  It makes for some pretty chilling reading.  This excerpt in particular:

“She suspected that Michael had been trying to manipulate me and was using similar tricks to manipulate his therapists: conning them into believing he was making progress by behaving well during the hour that he was in treatment. “Miguel likes to think that Michael is growing and maturing,” she said. “I hate to say it, but I think that’s him developing a larger skill set of manipulation.” She paused. “He knows how to get what he wants.”

Psychopaths may lack empathy, but are incredibly good at faking it. They are charming, manipulative, and tend to be very intelligent. From Jon Ronson’s The Psychopath Test: A Journey Through the Madness Industry:

“All those chats about empathy were like an empathy-faking finishing school for him: “I did learn how to manipulate better,” he said, “and keep the more outrageous feelings under wraps better.”

Just the other day, a 22 year old B.C. resident with “sociopathic tendencies”, Kayla Bourque, was set to be released on probation after serving several months for torturing to death some animals (including the family dog).  ‘Sociopathic’ animal killer to be released on probation – British …  In addition, she has admitted to having the “urge to kill someone” and fantasized about killing a homeless person.  Shocking, yes, but perhaps even more surprising is the fact that she was, by all accounts, an excellent student at Simon Fraser University where she was studying – get this – criminology and psychology!  Why?  I’m pretty damn sure it wasn’t because she was motivated by her strong sense of justice.  It seems more likely she was looking to educate herself on how not to get caught!

Forget the flesh-eating zombies of AMC’s The Walking Dead.  There are far scarier monsters living amongst us!

Another dark, rainy, dreary day today.  I did finish the bible for that SF series we’ve been working on for…a while.  Sent it Paul’s way, then had lunch with Robert Cooper and discussed one of his super-secret projects.  I read the pilot he wrote and think it’s terrific.  You’ll love it. Trust me.  Interestingly enough, I also ended up fielding a couple of calls to gauge my interest on a few more projects, all three based on established properties: two t.v. shows and a graphic novel.  Again, who knows what, if anything, will go – but it’s nice to be wanted.

Oh, and since you asked, in answer to my own question posed in yesterday’s entry, ” If you could go back in history, who would you want to spend time with?”, I’d say my father and my boy, Maximus (pictured in this blog’s banner).  I’d make them some delicious port-braised short ribs and sweet potato mash.

32 thoughts on “November 30, 2012: On parental responsibility and time travel II!

  1. “Forget the flesh-eating zombies of AMC’s The Walking Dead. There are far scarier monsters living amongst us!”

    I agree Joe, I often say I’m not afraid of the dead, but the living scare the Hell out of me! I will say that there do seem to be some individuals that are just “evil” – even as children they seem far beyond what would be usual bad behaviour. Animal torturing/killing is often a sign that the individual will eventually graduate to humans as the arousal threshold becomes higher and higher. I’m really wondering what will become of that B.C. woman’s case eventually.

    For what was supposed to be a “year off”, you sure have been busy! That’s probably a good thing though. Gotta keep those writing skill rapier sharp, you know!

  2. I need to see data on whether they really are more intelligent. Again, I talk in terms of sociopaths more.

    I think people are extremely impressed by their ability to fool, but they can come by these abilities by having ruthlessly practiced them for so long. They have so many more opportunities to practice because nothing is off limits so it would take less raw intelligence to develop those skills. Also, they pass other people’s work off as their own and know how to manipulate people into thinking they deserve to be in the positions they are in so there’s another place they look more impressive intelligence-wise.

    And even the inner circle that gets allowed to see signs of stupidity but knows full well the threat of having their lives ruined, can conclude the stupidity is part of the act of playing the victim and still conclude they are plenty intelligent because they have seen more closely their greatest skill set. With so many skills to manipulate people into thinking they are intelligent, I think the appearance of intelligence plays a huge role in this belief.

    I’m not sure about her studying to not get caught. I’ve seen where people with autism will study social behavior because it’s something they don’t understand intuitively, but are able to understand academic explanations even better than people who navigate such things by their gut. I can a psychopath similarly simply having a lot of academic aptitude for psychology.

  3. Going back to see your parents is an interesting thing to do, but I personally would only do that, if I picked a point in history where I was actually born, I wouldn’t want to influence events, only problem really is they would probably think you were crazy if a future you went back and said hey mom and a dad lol

    My parents are still alive, but if they wern’t I think il’d feel kinda sad when it came time to leave. Infact it’d be incredibly depressing to make contact with anyone who I care about/loved who had died via time travel and having to say goodbye and return to a period where they’re not there.

    It’d feel kinda empty inside, depending on how I was feeling at that time Il’d probably want to stay in that time period for a long period of time.

  4. Some people say The Walking Dead’s title really refers to the living characters becoming stone cold killers. Some people think too much but it’s still an interesting thought.

  5. I haven’t been around psychopaths (well, except for a neighbor I had in high school, who I’m pretty sure was at least a sociopath), but I have been around a few people that had bi-polar disorder. I’m not sure if they were more intelligent, but they were certainly very manipulative. Many times it seemed they even believed their own manipulated reality. One of the best movies I’ve seen on the subject (which rang pretty true) was “Mosquito Coast”, the movie with Harrison Ford from the novel by Paul Theroux.

    Maybe a psychopath is just a more intelligent version of BPD? Both seem to have that disconnect of not being able to empathize with others.

    On the time travel question, I was thinking more in terms of historical figures. Reconsidering my own family, I’d probably want to go back a visit my maternal grandfather. He died when I was 4 years old (in 1969), and while I have some faint memories of him, it would have been nice to know him better.

    Going further back, it would be interesting to trace the branches of my mom and dad’s families. In the case of my mom’s family, they go back to the mid 1700’s on Maryland’s eastern shore. And in the case of my dad’s family, they go back to the mid 1800’s in Emmanuel County Georgia (and maybe further, but we can’t be sure because Sherman burned all the courthouses in that area during his infamous march to the sea). Lots of family history to explore there, but unless Joe can lend me Baal’s time machine, I’ll have to make do with ancestry.com.

  6. First, I’ll answer the easy one: I miss my dad, but I wouldn’t want to go back. I’m fine with my memories, thanks If I went back to meet someone like Einstein or Thomas Jefferson or Benjamin Franklin or Amelia Earhart, I would be hopelessly awestruck and tongue-tied, so it would be pointless.. But I would like to go back and see Shakespeare’s plays as they were originally performed. That would be truly awesome. .

    Parental responsibility is a tougher question. No offense intended, but until you have kids of your own, you really can’t fully understand it. I believe that how a child behaves is a blend of nature and nurture. Every child is different, learns differently, reacts to rewards, punishments and discipline differently. I truly believe that there are genetically wired sociopaths. Can those people be “cured”? I don’t know. They are so good at manipulation – how would you ever really know if they were cured or were playing the game and pretending to be a good little boy or girl. That link you posted was chilling. I wonder what will happen to that family.

    I’m familiar with lack of empathy in kids.My daughter has Asperger’s syndrome and had problems with empathy and reading other people’s emotions (among other issues) as she grew up. It’s kind of unnerving. She was perceived by her peers as weird. Did her classmate’s parents assume she was just rude because she was badly brought up? I have no idea. No one ever said it to my face except my mother, of course. Was I responsible for her bad behavior? Nope. Did I work with her and get counselling to help her figure out how to relate to others? Yep. Getting her through those early years was difficult and exhausting, but she made it and is now doing well in college, academically AND socially.

    Bottom line: parents are responsible for being aware of their children’s medical, social and psychological problems and addressing them by getting whatever help is needed. But social/psychological services are not always easy to get – it’s expensive and for families without financial resources getting that help may be impossible.

  7. Like gforce, I just finished reading the Child Psychopath article…very chilling. I’ll be forwarding this article on to my oldest daughter as one of her interests is criminal psychology.

  8. I have worked with both children and adults you would term as psychopaths.Not going to get into terminology, which I started to do last night– but just an observation. A few were beyond scary and fortunately safely locked away, where we interviewed only with guards present.

    The saddest thing about that article to me is that the same article could have been written 30 yrs ago when I was in college. So little advances. Because children’s behaviors get mostly blamed on parenting, focus goes to parenting intervention. Try living with a child like that and then talk about how you would do it different. From the outside, I can say that MOST children, given consistent work, learn to do what gives them the most payoff. Hence you have people who behave the same who go on to kill or make CEOs. I do think behavioral structure can help a lot. But it is hard to tell someone their child has no emotions, forget guilt, forget love, forget bonding, work on consequences. Having worked in a facility for teens who had done a variety of things, including one who raped his 4 yr old sister, I can tell you that facilities that treat these kids with behavior therapy have a much higher “positive” outcome than those that try to make the client “human.” Well, if you count not having them back in the system as success, which frankly, I do.

    There were theories even 30 yrs ago that hormonal changes triggered they behaviors, but then you talk to the parents and you find these kids were “not right” LONG before pre-adolescent hormones hit. And I have seen parents tear themselves apart wondering if their response to that “not rightness” made things worse. Who knows, but having dealt with a few of those children, I cannot find it in me to blame them.

    That said, if your child exhibits behaviors that you feel in your gut are dangerous and you don’t do something, then yes, the parent is responsible.

    As for your doubting the community blames the person’s family– I never saw you as a rose-colored glasses type guy before. Dear spirits, CHILDREN of such people change their names to avoid stigma. Wives of criminals get spit at on the streets because people believe (right or wrong) they must have known. Pedophiles’ families here often get continued harassment and property damaged.

    And then you have the Amish, who opened their hearts and homes to the wife and family of the man, Charles Carl Roberts, who killed their children. We should all be so loving.

  9. You brought tears to my eyes with that comment on whom you would spend time with if you could go back in time: Maximus (and your father). I have said it once before and I will say it again, with no offense intended toward Akemi: There is nothing sexier than a man who loves his dog(s). Good luck on those secret and not-so-secret projects.

  10. JeffW: “Many times it seemed they even believed their own manipulated reality.”

    Knowing and having known several what I would call pathological liars in my time (sadly some related to me), I absolutely believe that they do. In fact, to the point where sometimes I would question my own reality, until some trusted friend would give me a figurative slap and tell me that they’re crazy. It’s freaky, and I do have to wonder what it’s like to live in that kind of life. Interestingly, it tends to be associated with a “victim” mentality, where they are always the ones that are being put-upon. Events which don’t fit that mindset are completely reconstructed and apparently fully believed, in order to minimize the cognitive dissonance that would otherwise arise. Stephen Karpman came up with the “drama triangle” to explain/describe some of it. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Karpman_drama_triangle

    And thanks Joe, for facilitating such an interesting discussion!

  11. Great comments from Debra, JeffW, DP & Sparrow_hawk! I’ve worked with animals for years and there IS a genetic component to how certain breeds behave. Chocolate labs are usually hyper, Terriers can be snippy, Chows get aggravated easily and the list goes on. It’s not written in stone of course. I’ve worked a couple of great Chows. I’ve seen more articles about humans and genetic personality studies lately. http://www.apa.org/monitor/sep02/genes.aspx

    I’ve read stories about children with psychosis before. It always makes me feel so bad for the child and parent. When you have a child, you dream about what the future will be for them. One thing I’ve learned with my son, I have to let him be who he is. He’s not athletic but he is a whiz at math. There are disappointments but I try and celebrate/accept who he is. For a parent with a “troubled” kid, I can’t imagine the disappointment and fear they live through daily.

  12. I once read that every character in a story has to arc. So, if a personality disorder is hopeless, how can they be represented in a story?

    I have a friend who might write a book and how they resolve things with a personality disordered family member is a huge deal. The end might be about how each character, er, person learns to maintain healthy boundaries with him, or not. Everyone can arc relative to him, but, barring a miraculous healing of his personality disorder, he can’t arc. Is her story doomed to not be a proper story unless she fictionalizes the end for his character?

  13. Yesterday Lewis commented, “Interesting thought …what about law-abiding good-hearted people that are the siblings of a psychopath? Those siblings were raised by the same parents in a home with the same values/morals/affection ..if it’s purely the parents’ fault then by the same accord all of the kids in the family should have turned out the same way.”

    Interesting, but I disagree with this theory. Sometimes it does not work this way. Sometimes one child is treated very differently from another. I’ve heard of child abuse cases where the parents abused the boys in the family and not the girls. Or vice versa. Or abused just one child in the family, but not the others. Sometimes parents absolutely have favorites and show it. Each sibling has a different personality and a parent may react to that personality different from their other kids. Or a parent may be on their own agenda with issues in their own head with a particular child.

    Once on 20/20 or Dateline or some show like that, it profiled a family with 2 kids, a girl and younger boy. The little girl had scizophrinia (sp?) at birth. They knew something was wrong at birth. They showed movies of her as an infant. Her eyes were wild and she made crazy movements not like a normal infant. In the show, she was about 10. It chronicaled her parents lifelong struggle to get her help or the correct drug combination to battle the scizophrinia. They had 2 places to live because she was too dangerous around her little brother. They would come together as a family during the day, but one parent would leave with the little girl at night and go to a small apartment. Their devotion to finding her help was very admirable. They were physically exhausted and money was running out. They were constantly looking for organizations that might have answers or help. I would love to see an update on the little girl. She is probably a teen now.

  14. @ livingforcreativity (Amanda) – Love your song!! As a lifetime Cowboy fan, living west of Dallas, I feel your pain. Right now I’m not watching them much. What for? And who else am I going to pull for? There is no one else. Just keep waiting for this period to pass. And I am a big fan. I would go to the games back in the Tom Landry days when they had horrible spells too. But there was always hope Coach Landry would make them better. As long a Jerry Jones is still making money, there is no hope. He will not change anything. Great song!

  15. @gforce

    Would a psychopath need to go to all that effort of re-constructing reality to avoid the discomfort of realizing they hurt someone, other than what’s needed to get what they want? And that condition can change in severity through a person’s life so that remorse might come much, much later.

    @living for creativity (Amanda)

    Golden Child Syndrome, treating one child much, much better than the others, something some types of abusers use. It tells the more abused children that they are not completely out of control, they could choose not to abuse them but they don’t. The golden child is still damaged by having someone’s hopes for the image they want to project rest on him/her and still gets abused sometimes, too.

    There is a personality disorder that’s the extreme of passing the same disorder to children, especially mother to daughter, not just because of genetics, but because of the specific types of abuse that screw the kid up. I forget which one it was, I think it was borderline personality disorder.

    I still think abuse will exacerbate lots of disorders by damaging empathy and reducing the person’s ability to realize they need to change to not hurt more people. People talk about suffering as increasing empathy, but it’s the exact opposite.

  16. @DP – The character with a personality order can certainly have an arc. It just may be the opposite of the other characters – things get good in the middle and then return to the status quo (or worse). The story “Flowers for Algernon” is a good example of that.


  17. Hey Joe! How did you like Ellis Peters’ A Morbid Taste for Bones? . I also see Conjure Wife on the list – another favorite of mine.

    Thanks for hosting this interesting discussion. Do psychopaths figure in any of your super secret projects?

  18. @Lewis – I meant that comment tagged to @living for creativity for you, since you and Ponytail were discussing it.

  19. @Marsha_R

    Oh, yeah, and there’s The Ring, as in the villain not really changing, or stories with a monster who serves more as a force of nature than a character. It’s hard to think like that when it’s her father-in-law, though, and at this point in the real story, it’s all about praying his heart will be softened or having done everything they could do. Doing stuff just so no one can say you didn’t seems to be a recurring theme in dealing with difficult people.

  20. @Tammy… long time chow owner here, last one a chow/coyote mix. I had to laugh at your “aggravated” comment. I have been on chow boards for about 20 yrs.. it is the most wonderful group of owners. Truly the Rottie boards.. much like our dogs, we’ll take you on if you need it. Golden Ret owners.. one day I opened the board and there were like 200 posts (I did monitoring on the old aol boards). My daughter said “What are they fighting about?” (Because if I opened the Pit board or Rottie, it was a fight with that many posts.) “Nothing, they are always chatty.” LOL. But the Chow folks, much like chows, lead, follow or get out of my way but don’t get in my face. Fight? Everyone leaves til the fighters finish it. Doing rescue, I found so many more stable good chows, but you have to have the right home. Man handle even a Rottie and you might get away with it, not a Chow. But dang they are great dogs.

    @Ponytail — we agree. Same family hasn’t a damned thing to do with it. If you ask 4 adults from the same family what their childhood and parents were like, you’ll get 4 responses. When I did counseling, it was very hard to get parents to comprehend that it did not MATTER if they loved their child, it only mattered if the child FELT it. If not, you cannot make the issue whether you did or didn’t, but how you can change things so it is felt. And you bet parents do not treat kids the same no matter what they claim. Each one is different.

  21. An interesting discussion so far…

    @Tam Dixon:

    Those dispensers are hilarious! I might get a few as presents this year!


    I don’t doubt such individuals create their own reality. I’ve had one such individual try to convince me (on several occasions) that another person was lying when I knew the opposite was true, and when I challenged the individual about their “facts” they always had a very elaborate explanation for why their “facts” were true. Even when I had witnessed the events in question (and the person knew it), the person would still try to convince me of their reality, which leads me to think that they can’t distinguish between lies and reality. It became impossible to discuss “facts” with them in the end.


    Would a psychopath need to go to all that effort of re-constructing reality to avoid the discomfort of realizing they hurt someone, other than what’s needed to get what they want? And that condition can change in severity through a person’s life so that remorse might come much, much later.

    I’m not sure that “reality reconstruction” is a conscious process for them. In the BPD people I’ve dealt with, their reality was established and consistent in their minds (meaning they didn’t construct their story on the spot). Of course, this could mean that they had already anticipated what could have contradicted their reality and had answers for it, but over numerous conversations I never saw their view of reality falter. When challenged with facts, the challenger became “a liar”, and “out to get them” in their eyes and they would often turn belligerent at this point. It made it very hard to interact with such a person and help them resolve their problems.

  22. I honestly believe that parents do the best that is in them…as individuals. What they do may fall very short of even the basics required as well as those that go the extra mile. It may be human nature to blame…or find where the fault may lie.

    I believe also that those you speak of are very clever…and fool people all the time…at even a very young age. A mother told me once that she saw a trait in her son at the age of one. I met him as a man. He has brought a lot of sorrow to his family and close friends. Few see when they take off their mask.

  23. Can a nine-year old be a psychopath? Sure, where do you think the adult psychopaths come from? For another added thought on that, try watching the Criminal Minds episode about this exact thing: a nine-year old psychopath. I think it’s in either season one or two.

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