The Book of the Week is “Savage Spawn” by Jonathan Kellerman, published in 1999. This short ebook, authored by a child clinical psychologist, discusses topics associated with violent children, including serial killers, psychopaths, psychology professionals, the nature/nurture controversy and violence in the media.
The cynical Kellerman writes that “profiles” of serial killers should be taken with a grain of salt: “Profiles are most effective as career builders for retired FBI agents seeking to be best-selling authors and consultants to the film industry, but they miss the mark as often as they hit.”
Kellerman believes that psychopaths (conscienceless people) cannot be rehabilitated because: 1) “…no medication has been found that alters antisocial behavior” and 2) they do not respond to the treatment of traditional psychotherapy because they lack insight and the desire to change.
At least since the mid-twentieth century, due to competition with psychotherapists (who hold PhD’s) to treat patients, psychiatrists have been big advocates of attributing biological causes to mental health disorders in order to prescribe medication.
The author provides a real-life example of two boys, thirteen and eleven, who, in spring, 1998, went on a shooting spree at a middle school and killed four girls and a teacher, and wounded ten other kids and another teacher. Kellerman thinks that had the kids not had access to firearms, “…their misdeeds likely would have expressed themselves as some variant of schoolyard bullying, perhaps a knifing.” He proposes one simple rule for “…preventing child criminality: Restrict access to firearms [to kids].” Teaching psychopathic kids “practical shooting” will result in their bullying other kids. After the occurrence of untoward events, adults who gave kids guns, even with training, should never wonder why such events occurred.
Obviously, it is hard to pinpoint all of the exact causes of violent incidents. Psychological research that would produce a general consensus on the causes of extremely violent behavior would require: a) a long-term study of a sufficiently large number of subjects, and b) other difficult, expensive measures that would minimize bias. Kellerman mentions that longitudinal biological studies of psychopathology have been performed in Scandinavia, but he fails to provide details.
It is inconclusive which, genetics or the environment, is the more responsible for violence committed by kids. The fact that “Genetic traits can make themselves apparent at any age.” throws more of a wrench in the works. The author opines that media violence is not a proximate cause of violent behavior; kids who injure or kill people would probably do so anyway, regardless of the movies or TV shows they had watched. The author’s own children consumed a large quantity of carnage on-screen, and were none the more physically hostile for it. However, Kellerman cannot resist saying, “…media violence is likely to endure as a fruitful source of research grants for social scientists…”
Read the book to learn: a) the relationship between the heart rate of certain toddlers and probable future violent behavior; b) three strong predictive factors of violence in teenagers; c) the age before which, if there is an arrest record– a lifetime of criminality is likely, too; and d) how to intervene in the lives of high-risk youngsters to try to head off violent behavior.