Can rage drive your child to murder?

5 Feb 2009, 0315 hrs IST, Nandita Sengupta, TNN

NEW DELHI: It’s the last thing you expect: an eight-year-old killing a six-year-old.

But in a chilling observation, psychologists working with disturbed children say incidents such as Miraj’s murder in Tughlakabad on Monday are likely to be repeated. Murderous violence among pre-teens has seen a sharp rise in Delhi, an almost four-fold increase in the last 10 years. Worse, only 25% of pre-teen homicidal violence cases are reported, psychologists say, because parents and schools want to suppress such behaviour for fear of harming reputations.

In 1998, there would barely be one or two cases a year, says clinical psychologist Rajat Mitra, but now eight to nine cases of extreme violence by pre-teens are referred to Swanchetan, an NGO he is associated with. Kids threatening with guns or just beating up inflicting injuries are not stray cases any more.

Children who take the extreme step of murder choose violence as the first option to solve problems, says Mitra. Violent home atmosphere, media and adult-chat nurture aggressive instincts, but unusually violent kids are also genetically inclined to be explosive, he says. In the case of a six-year-old who had killed a child two years older in Delhi’s Nangloi area, Mitra said the child was extremely violent even when playing. He tended to hit vertically on the head. A show of such intense brutality is abnormal, he says.

Children, say experts, begin to understand the cost of violence and death only after age 9. So while the 8-year-old is aware of what he did, he possibly does not understand what his action means in terms of what death is. But they know that they can get away with killer aggression. The message that society tolerates violence is going out loud and clear to children and this has led to changed behaviour patterns across all strata, says consultant psychiatrist Avdesh Sharma.

Pre-teen violence is not an impact of television viewing. They choose violence to make their point as they observe greater social acceptance of such behaviour among adults. It is imperative, feels Mitra, for courts to mandate counseling for the parents of the child accused. The volatile kid must be observed and counseled regularly.

“Such behaviour can be altered. But if unattended to, such kids may grow to be a risk to society. If the issue is ignored, he will repeat his behaviour,” he says. Parents can always sense unusual aggression in a child. “Do not keep quiet,” says Sharma. “Bullying is very common. No time for fire-fighting, we need mass-scale change. Consequences of violence have to be demonstrated.”