Duke University put research to the notion that a negative environment shapes children into violent teens. Does that study augment the argument for — Infant Criminals, Bad Seeds and Guilty Ovum — or does it press the idea to the curb? It is possible some children are predestined to form a criminal mind no matter how they were raised?
Duke’s argument — “Testing an Idealized Dynamic Cascade Model of the Development of Serious Violence in Adolescence” — picks these points:
The researchers tracked 754 children from preschool through adulthood and documented that children who have social and academic problems in elementary school are more likely to have parents who withdraw from them over time. That opens the door for them to make friends with adolescents exhibiting deviant behaviors and, ultimately, leads them to engage in serious and sometimes costly acts of violence.
The developmental path toward violent outcomes was largely the same for boys and girls, said Kenneth A. Dodge, the lead author of the study and director of the Center for Child and Family Policy at Duke University.
Dodge and his colleagues in the Conduct Problems Prevention Research Group also found that the cascade could be traced back to children born with biological risks or born into economically disadvantaged environments, both of which make consistent parenting a challenge. They determined biological risk by assessing the temperaments of the children in infancy, based on mothers’ reports; those at risk were irritable, easily startled and difficult to calm. These children are more likely to exhibit minor social and cognitive problems upon entering school. From there, the behavior problems begin to “cascade,” he said.
The Duke article also contends early intervention and conditioning can alleviate — or entirely stop — the bad behavior, thus saving the teens from their violent childhood environment.
Does Duke’s research strike you as probable, or impossible, when it comes to creating violent teens?
Before you answer, consider the case of “T” — a five-year-old monster from Washington state — recently abandoned in Omaha by his adoptive mother under Nebraska’s ill-written Safe Haven Law:
The boy has been placed in psychiatric hospitals three times and released with medication and outpatient therapy.
He has reactive attachment disorder, a lack of emotional attachment that results in disturbed and inappropriate behavior; disruptive behavior disorder, a consistent pattern of breaking rules; and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.
“It’s like a disruptive 13-year-old in a 5-year-old’s body,” Cowburn [his mother] said. “Most mothers wake up to, ‘Mommy, I’m hungry.’ I have to hear, ‘If you don’t get up, I’ll slit your dog’s throat.’ This is like a horrible nightmare that never ends.” …
In April 2007, the boy cut the family cat and came at Cowburn with a knife. …
On Christmas, T pushed Cowburn’s 90-pound mother, who fell. She fractured her hip and pelvis and spent seven weeks in a nursing home recovering.
The boy has broken Cowburn’s nose, cut her forehead with a snow brush and left deep bruises from biting her calf. He has put a kitten inside an oven and blinded the family’s parrot. …
The boy has poured brownie mix onto the carpet, smothered it with water and salad dressing and ground it into the fibers with his feet. He kicks holes in walls.
He urinated on the neighbor’s dog and threw canned food off the balcony.
“It’s like a horror movie every day,” Cowburn said. …
He was kicked out of kindergarten this fall for physical aggression, including choking a girl.
Is “T” a product of his environment? Or is he merely a dangerous outlier?
Or was T born into his monster behavior from his birth mother’s bi-polar, schizophrenic, drug-addled womb — and his predestiny is to live a conscience-less, disassociated, life apart from the love and humanity that raised him?