ACP member Ann Horne gives advice to mother of troubled boy in the Guardian Weekend’s Problem Solved Column.
A mother of two children asks journalist Annalisa Barbieri for help with her 11 year old son, saying that: “Lying comes easily to him. He is self-absorbed, possibly narcissistic, impulsive, keen to win peers’ admiration and hooked on sugar. I think his self-esteem is not good.” She talks about his stealing and sexually inappropriate behaviour on line and adds that she feels he has “no conscience”. She describes herself as feeling “utterly overwhelmed, anxious and frightened”.
Ann Horne, child Psychotherapist responds by saying, “It’s clear he’s on a path and it’s escalating – and it’s the escalation we need to worry about,” She emphasises the need for the mother to get proper support for him and for all of the family, saying that this will be having an impact on the younger sibling.
“You need to explore, with a professional, why your son may be slow to pick up on social clues and be less socially advanced than his peers. When asked why children steal, Horne said: “It usually goes a way back and can be a way of looking for something they lack. It may be a sign that a child needs something but doesn’t have a clue what. Money is usually a substitute for affection: it’s a ‘bit of the parent’.”
She adds, “your son is a long way from being a sociopath. Being a sociopath or a psychopath are established psychological structures. He’s still fluid, still young, still a work in progress. But there is a sense of him getting into some self-sustaining [or his idea of it, by trying to make himself self-sufficient by stealing money], of shutting himself off from what is around him.”
She advises the mother to “bring any computer he has access to into the living room,” advises Horne, “so his use of it is public.” She also advises parents to “learn about the internet, learn about parental controls and how to use them on screens, tablets and phones. Don’t let him have a TV in his own room. Keep purses locked away. These are practical things you can do.”
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