What Makes a Kid Want to Kill Somebody?

A scene from Sunday night's Desperate Housewives. A do-gooder neighbor reminds an alcoholic single mom that kids need their mommies home, not out looking for men in bars.

Yeah, there are spoilers.

I suppose it's the stuff of forensics and other fields, and even though I rarely have a murderer telling me his problems, I do hear a kid say, on occasion, "I want to kill someone."

Or it can get specific. "I want to kill so and so."

This is never a good moment, hearing this, because you have to decide who to call, and among the calls is the one that warns the potential victim. That's the law. There are very few situations in which a mental health professional has to break confidentiality, but this is one of them.

So last night, about 8:00 pm, we're eating dinner. I watch as FD reads the paper, fork to mouth, and in another country, the other eater, a biological offspring, is staring at a computer screen, searching for error in his code, reading and rereading hundreds and hundreds of lines of code. He's feeling a little homicidal himself.

I don't feel much like sitting, and as luck would have it, Desperate Housewives is about to begin. I like the show, mainly because I like some of the actors, and I like that the women, the wives, are forced to make quick decisions that will affect just about everything important in family life. And I like that when the story ends, somebody's trying to do something nice for somebody else.

There's always at least one really creepy, dangerous person on the show, which helps me raise my anxiety threshold. I'm reading a slasher novel, too, just to do that.

Anyway, the cringe, the tension in Desperate Housewives is generally well-done, not gratuitous, and the plot keeps my interest, even if I hate some of the story lines. But there are some that I hate to hate. Like last week a teen is working a counter (we like him), pouring a latte. The customer is old enough to be his father. Actually, the guy really is his father, but the son doesn't know this. Mother has made sure to hide this information, ran away with him as an infant, assumed a new identity. She knows bio-dad is a dangerous man.

Bio-dad is befriending his bio-son in the coffee shop, confides the story line of his novel in progress. Now he asks the b0y, "So what should I have him (the spurned father in the novel) do for revenge, now that he's caught up with them? Now that he's found the woman who stole his child, what should he do?"

The kid thinks. It's a long pause.

"To get to the mother," he suggests, "I'd have him get to the kid. Get to her through the son."

"That's what I'm thinking," his father replies.

Cringe stuff. Anyway, this week we get a new plot, a completely new set of characters, one that is going to tie up many of the unsolved, ongoing mysteries on the show. "Epiphany" takes us through the life of a little boy, Eddie, whose father has left him at the age of four. His mother is a verbally abusive woman, addicted to alcohol.

No matter what Eddie does, no matter what he thinks or says, she's contemptuous and ridiculing. Having Eddie has ruined her life. She laughs at him, smirks at him, belittles him. It's so well-done, so real, what we see. And even if it is television, we know it's a fine enactment of exactly what does happen in emotionally, verbally abusive homes. We don't call these homes toxic for nothing.

Eddie searches for nurturing people, and on Wisteria Lane there's no shortage of these. But he makes the mistake of taking the relationships too seriously, thinking older women might really like him, or might like him for their daughters.

And when he risks intimacy, when he tells a female, any female, about his feelings for her, she inevitably laughs, too. Like his mom. Nobody takes him seriously. He just needs someone to love him. You think this is trite? I wish it were.

And wouldn't you know? He's had some very serious anger problems for a long, long, time. He's a good kid, just can't manage his anger very well. And yeah, he's the killer in the neighborhood. One of them.

All I can say is, I liked it, and if I were on the jury, I'd go with the insanity defense. For some reason, my guess is, they'll never pick me for one of these.


Here's the summary from the ABC website, but if you have time, watch the whole show:
We meet Eddie's mom Barbara, a mean, slovenly drunk. She raids his room, looking for a bottle of Scotch, but instead finds his scrapbook with the clippings about the Fairview murders.

We flashback to when Eddie was just four, and his father left his mother -- after loudly proclaiming that he'd never wanted any of this, including Eddie. Mary Alice tries to befriend her, but Barbara isn't interested. Mary Alice stops by one day to give Eddie a teddy bear and finds him home alone while his mom is out drinking. She lectures Barbara about not putting her needs ahead of her son, but the lesson clearly doesn't take.

Gaby first meets Eddie when she moves to Wisteria Lane and finds a lonely Eddie inside her empty house -- he'd been sneaking in to play there since the previous owners moved out. He ends up coming over every day because Barbara has a new boyfriend. When he surprises Carlos and Gaby in the tub, Carlos orders Gaby to "cut him loose" and start making friends with other women, not nine-year-old boys. Gaby wants to go talk to Barbara, but Carlos advises her, "We don't want to be known as the nosy neighbors." After Gaby tells him they can't be friends anymore, Eddie grabs a BB gun and shoots a bird.


SocialWrkr24/7 said…
I actually had the exact opposite reaction. I agree with you about the realism depicted in the mom's treatment of her son - her blaming him for ruining her life, her continually pointing out how he's "just like his father" who he knows she hates, etc. I've seen so many children who come from just such families - its heartbreaking.

But, I didn't like that he became the killer because I hate that the media portrays kids from dysfunctional homes as murderers/sociopaths/etc. Mostly this frustrates me because I work with kids in foster care and its so difficult to find quality foster parents because of this stereotype!

But I was also complaining about Lynette's decision that the best thing for Eddie was obviously to leave his mom and come live with their family - cause that would solve all his problems - I think it is once again reinforcing our society's believe that just "getting the kids out" instead of really getting involved with the family as a whole.

I wish a show would depict things a little more realistically - kid has some behavior problems but isn't a serial killer and Mom is an alcholic but is approached in a understanding way (which Mary Alice initially tried to do but then essentially bailed after telling her to "get a grip") and is supported through coming to understand her own issues and how they are affecting her son. That is a show I'd love to see.
therapydoc said…
SW-4/7, me, too.

Thanks for putting it out there that this is teev, and it's rife with stereotype.

But now that we got the truth, readers should think of it this way. SW-24/7 watched it. I watched it. One of us, at least, blogged about it, started a conversation. The child's mom surely needed professional help, the community failed her. And the kid, chaval, (yiddish for oy vey, rhymes with the-doll) the kid has to parent himself.

And most kids are just terrible at that.

So any of you out there who are thinking, Should I become a foster parent? GO FOR IT. Desperate Housewives is just a television show. Most kids aren't murderous, no matter how difficult the upbringing, and most of us have problems. Kids like Eddie need someone. Desperately.

That was the point of the show.
TechnoBabe said…
Having been in foster homes, I would hope for many more. My brother and I wanted so much to be removed from our family situation but I was twelve before that happened. The foster homes were not perfect but they were safer. I personally cannot comment on a TV show since I don't watch any TV. It is enough to live a real life and just get world news and learn of world events online.
therapydoc said…
I get most of my opinions reading from digital data bases. You have to be in school or teach to do that, so definitely it's a good reason to go into academia.

Rejection is often associated with aggression, it's true, but it's not hard-wired, and surely with labeling, positive rewards, love, CBT, aggressive responses can be filtered and channeled into creativity and intimacy. It's just energy, after all.
Jack said…
Some things have changed so dramatically from my childhood. Back then it wasn't uncommon to say "I am going to kill you."

Yes it was said in anger, but the intent to actually carry out some homicidal act, well that was missing.

Now you don't want to say anything because someone might take you seriously and report you. Don't misunderstand, I am not trying to minimize things, I understand that there is a risk, but just how many people are part of that crowd anyway.
Anonymous said…
Well, hmmm... I tend to think that saying something in anger like "I am going to kill you." does a kind of harm to a child in part because of the anger behind those words and in part because it is likely going to be difficult for a young child to distinguish between a real threat and angry words that aren't going to result in real bodily harm. And when it comes from a parent, it seems to me that is even more harmful.

Years ago someone related to me expressed a desire to kill someone, what method, and that the object of said feelings had been chosen at random. I called my therapist to ask what to do and then tried to get the person to agree to get counseling. I was pretty young when this happened (in my twenties) and had no way myself of distinguishing between a threat that might be acted upon and one that expressed a cry for help but no worry of it actually happening.

I think it's best not to use those words, "I want to kill you" because it can cause harm, as it did to me, even when it isn't directed at you. It does place some sense of responsibility on another human being not only to take it seriously but to try and do what you can, and then, ultimately, to feel seriously helpless about the possibility it might happen and you couldn't stop it from happening.

Those are some really ugly words, as are some of the other really unkind things I've heard of parents saying, in anger, to their children-- "You little s**t" comes to mind, said by a parent I know of to a child already suffering from depression and low self-esteem.

Seems particularly reprehensible to me when adults resort to such things with children. I do realize they have issues of their own and need help, but what happens when years of therapy for such an adult don't yield much change in behavior. The child gets chewed up in that process for sure, I think.
Syd said…
I have never told someone that I wanted to kill them. In fact, since adulthood I have not told another that I don't like them. True, there are some people that I don't care to hang with, but wishing others harm isn't one of my traits.
I have not watched Desperate Housewives ever. I guess that there is enough desperation around to not have to subject myself to it on TV.
But I do read your posts.
Isle Dance said…
I loved this episode so much. I like how you'd solve this, if you were on the jury. And to hear what they said at the end (How are monsters created? By other monsters) simplifies a lot.
therapydoc said…
Thanks, but maybe it's too simple, right? It is TV.
Dr. Deb said…
Didn't see this episode and don't follow the show. But I'm sure your take is superlative and right as rain - as you always are.
Margo said…
It's funny how you call it 'raising your anxiety threshold' - I think I'm drawn to reading and watching spooky stuff from time to time (despite having inherited your low tolerance for being creeped out) for the same reason, to prove to myself that I can. The apple...the tree...not so far :)
tuesday@11 said…
I often ponder if monsters create other monsters, why didn't my siblings and I grow up to be ax murderers? Why do some grow up to walk in the same footsteps as their parents and others take a different path?