Heartfelt Thoughts: When Children Become Criminals

It’s no surprise to discover that those who commit major crimes grew up in abusive, often terrorizing households. For many children, this experience is akin to being in combat. 

When exposed to these war-like environments for a prolonged period of time, the nervous system of a child becomes agitated and hyper alert to seeking safety. 

Without the proper recovery and safety net of a warm and understanding other, a child’s neurobiology becomes damaged. We’ve seen war veterans react to noises, sights, smells, and physical touch with violence and fear. A child’s response will be no different.

Like clay, children’s brains can be molded over time to expect violence and abuse from other people. When they jump into adulthood, this expectation becomes an absolute. 

What happens to children who cannot process or understand their scary environments or know how to channel their rage and sadness effectively? They develop ways to keep those experiences out of their conscious awareness by engaging in behaviors that seem to erase or cover up the fear they feel. 

Some use defenses like self-attack, intellectualization (keeping the mind separate from the emotions), while others resort to discharging their rage and violence onto others. Thus, nurturing criminality. 

Parents: If your child experiences terror, anger, fear, sadness, guilt, or grief, help them understand it. Let them know it’s okay to feel what they’re feeling. When a child says, I’m scared, don’t say, “no you’re not, you’re a big boy/girl”. 

Instead say, “Oh, honey I’m sorry you feel scared. What’s making you feel afraid right now?” Listen. Mirror healthy coping skills and self-attunement. 

Your child’s brain will thank you.