Raising Psychopaths: How Do We Prevent Our Kids from Becoming James Holmes

In the wake of the shootings in Aurora, initial reactions to learning that elementary-school-aged children were at the midnight screening of a violent PG-13 movie ranged from outrage and blame to empathy and an urging to not shame the victims.

This is not about the choices that those parents made. I can’t fathom what they are feeling right now, and although I try not to keep my kids out after 10 p.m. (they are under 7 years old), that’s my choice. I have my reasons. I’ll grant you the same benefit of the doubt because I have no idea why you take your kids to midnight showings of violent movies. Or midnight bowling games. Or midnight whatevers.

I’ve heard dozens of reasons to do so, and I stopped questioning it after maybe the third explanation. It’s not my life. It’s not my place.

What I can do is talk about my choices and try to examine where they align with those around me, as well as the people in place to make theoretically ethical decisions regarding (in this case) rating systems.

Not to mention where my choices align with how I was raised. Skip to “… and I turned out fine.”

I don’t take my kids to overtly violent movies because I have no idea what it does to their developing minds. I don’t want to desensitize my children to violence.

Same goes for overtly violent video games. I don’t let my kids play video games above the rating E10+ (Everyone 10+).

My line in the sand is violence. At least, I try not to let them watch or play either. Or … I go into my choices with a bias against that leniency but sometimes change my mind depending on a number of extenuating circumstances.

Wow. How many paragraphs am I into this piece and I am already making excuses? Right. I should go ahead and show you my hand and let you know that my oldest kids are almost 8 and 6, and they’ve seen all of the X-Men and Spider-Man movies. All violent, all right around PG-13.

I worry that to a developing mind that may have fault lines, I haven’t recognized some damaging seeds could be planted. Studies supporting or refuting my fears stopped interesting me because, after a while, I decided not to risk it.

I have no reason to think that any of my kids could grow up to be a psychopath. None. But I look at the mother of James Holmes and wonder when she first noticed something going wrong in his head. No, it doesn’t appear that he was violent, and he didn’t have a criminal record, but surely she saw something deteriorating.

We don’t know, yet. It’s still really early. But based on her reaction when she received the first call, I’m leaning toward that she saw something falling apart before that night.

One of my first thoughts when I turned my mind to the Aurora shooter was, “How did this happen? How could he have been stopped? How do you even see something like this coming?” Everyone on the news is saying he is a psychopath. Okay, but what does that mean?

Psychopathy is mysterious and infuriating and vague. I’m guessing the answers to my above questions are, “Who knows?” and “He couldn’t” and “You don’t.”

And then I want to scream from impotence.

So I look at the mother. I look at my kids. I worry that you can’t stop your kids from turning into a psychopath. A good childhood doesn’t guarantee against psychopathy any more than a bad childhood ensures it.

Again with the impotence. Are we powerless?

I have a real issue with wanting to fix things. I want to fix my kids against psychopathy. You know, just in case. Because who the hell knows?!

So I look at my choices. I look at the choices I make for them. They are too young to understand their choices, I don’t care how brilliant your children are.

I don’t want to desensitize my children to violence. Somewhere along the line of choices, my mind landed on that one.

Do I think that watching violent movies will make my kids psychopaths? No. I watched tons of violent movies growing up in the 80’s. I didn’t turn out to be a killer any more than I turned out to be promiscuous. This is important because I also watched tons of sex scenes when I was little. Porky’s comes to mind. Revenge of the Nerds. You name it, I saw it. I was born in 1976, so you do the math.

My husband is the only person I’ve ever slept with, and I abhor physical violence. But one my family’s favorite pastimes was “B-movie marathons.” Those are some of my favorite family memories. We would watch hours of terrible horror movies replete with violence and sex and … I guess it didn’t “take.” Again with the “I turned out fine.”

Or is it just that I don’t have as many fault lines in my mind as a psychopath?

And now we’re back to, “How do you spot the fault lines?” And, more complicated, “Does repeated exposure to violent images have any effect on developing minds, let alone psychopathic minds?

I have no idea.

So I play it safe. I don’t let my elementary-school-age kids watch violent movies or play violent video games. This can be tricky, as you know, when the toy aisles are full of Batman toys. Now, how I define “violent” is murky. You see, all of this is murky. We have to make these calls on our own. I try not to judge you for how you fall in your judgment and flinch a little when I go out on a limb and tell you where I fall and why.

And I look to the ratings systems and believe they are there for a reason.

Regardless of our worries about offending each other (and dear Lord, do you know how long it took me to write this?! the eggshells!), I think it’s good to talk about this. I’m trying to figure this out. I don’t know what I’m doing any better than you do. But I sure as hell am giving it a lot of thought.

P.S. I kid you not, while proof-reading this post our babysitter poked her head in my office and asked if it’s okay for the kids to watch Transformers. I said, “Yeah. I’m seriously writing a post right this second about trying not to let my kids watch violent movies … but they’ve seen that one before. Damage is done.”

I mean, seriously. You see my point about how I’m so not judging. I’m just as lost as you are. Talk to me, parents. Do you let your kids watch violent movies? Why or why not?


• • •

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More of Megan on Threadbare Theory:

Impress Your Kids Much? I Don’t. (on how writing Forrest Gump wouldn’t have helped)
Chasing the Ovation (on my love for packed movie theaters)
Dad Enough: A Father’s Day Vasectomy (oh yes, I did)

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Article Posted 4 years Ago
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