Q My 10 year old son mentioned to me that his friend at school likes to trap and hurt animals. I felt sick to the core at what he described seeing at his friend’s house when he went there for a sleepover. I have no doubt that it’s true and my dilemma is whether to speak to the boy’s parents or the school. I don’t think it’s a natural developmental stage and I’m baffled and worried about it. My son thought it was ‘sick’ which is why he told me about it. He now wants to avoid this other boy and I have to say I’m very pleased about that. I’m left wondering why is he so cruel to animals?
A That’s a tricky one to answer. On the one hand we know from research studies that there is a much greater likelihood of adult violence from someone who was cruel to animals as a child.
The other side of the coin is about how you can share your feelings and concerns without being ‘punished’ by the parents who may think their son’s behaviour is acceptable. Or they may not even know about it and then feel ashamed and defensive.
For anyone to be cruel to animals shows a lack of empathy for the suffering of others. We usually develop empathy around the age of 8 when we start to see things from someone else’s perspective.
This boy is showing signs of emotional distress and he seems to be taking this out on something that he can control. He may be projecting his own pain onto an animal as a way of letting it out.
There may be problems in his home to do with parental abuse or neglect – hence his internal pain. I doubt that you will make much of an impact into that as another parent. You might well end up feeling trapped and hurt yourself!
In your place I would schedule a private meeting with the school – the boy’s teacher and head of year.
It may be that your concerns highlight and add to others they may have been having about the child. It might result in a referral to the local child and family services, and hopefully (ideally) some specialist counselling for the boy and family therapy for the family.
Perhaps the teacher might be able to include a project about animal care, empathy and emotional expression within his/her lesson plans in future.
I think you are right to be very concerned and to encourage your son to keep his distance. I very much hope that you can help to prevent any other animals suffering at the hands of this disturbed boy.
Maxine Harley (MSc Psychotherapy)
www.maxineharley.com – where you’ll find a page of FREE RESOURCES that may be of interest to you.