Warning Signs of Teen Sociopathic Behavior
As we hear more frequently about teenagers who have turned to violence, such as in school shootings, there is more focus in the media on the term, “sociopath.” Parents, teachers, and coaches are the most likely people in a teen’s life who will be able to identify when a youth is headed down a bad path in life, so it is vital that we are aware of the warning signs of sociopathic behavior.
What is a sociopath?
A sociopath is someone with a personality disorder that exhibits extreme antisocial attitudes and behavior. These traits usually begin occurring before the age of 16. It affects only 1% to 4% of the total population, which is about 1 in 25 Americans. Most often, this personality disorder occurs in males.
Individuals with antisocial personality disorders display social patterns that are out of the ordinary in comparison to what most people would normally do in their culture or circumstances. They feel, think, perceive, and relate differently. An important thing to know about these disorders is that they tend to be compulsive, which means that a sociopath is not able to simply “turn off” their negative thoughts or traits, and they often do not even recognize the ways in which their traits are problematic. They must receive professional help.
Signs of Sociopathic Tendencies
An early identification of sociopathic tendencies holds the key to treating it. While slight and covert at first, these tendencies can eventually mature into something far more threatening, so it is essential to be diagnosed and treated by a mental health professional as early as possible.
Sociopathy is officially indicated by three or more of the following behaviors:
- Aggression to people and/or animals. Examples include bullying, threatening, or intimidating others; targeting someone over the Internet; being cruel to people; harming animals; or showing an affinity for violent content.
- Destruction of property. Examples include fire-setting or destroying others’ property.
- Deceitfulness. Examples include repeated and/or frequent lying, the use of aliases, engaging in calculating or manipulative behavior, or conning others.
- Theft. Examples include stealing items that have some value or breaking into someone’s house, building, or car.
- Serious violations of rules. Examples include frequently skipping school, breaking curfew, or running away from home.
- Lack of empathy and/or remorse. Examples include being indifferent to the feelings of others, rationalizing a behavior that hurt someone else, or showing a reckless disregard for the safety of others.
How to Treat Someone with an Antisocial Personality Disorder
If you know a youth that is displaying 3 or more of the above behaviors, please do not hesitate to seek professional help. This child needs treatment. You can get a recommendation for a mental health professional from your family doctor, pediatrician or other health professional.
Treatment will likely include individual therapy, group or family therapy, and possibly medication. Therapy will work on helping the teen develop impulse control, social skills, and empathy. Research has shown that teens displaying sociopathic tendencies do best when they attend school regularly and when they receive a lot of time, interest, structure, and love from their parents.
If you are a parent with a sociopathic teen, you need support. This is a difficult and trying situation. Find a therapist or support group for yourself. The National Alliance for the Mentally Ill (NAMI) can connect you with resources in your area.