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In the United States alone, we have witnessed a sharp rise in mass shootings, particularly in schools. A scary time for many, and an important time to give our attention to matters of mental health. A recent article in Psychology Today listed several behavioral traits that could be warning signs of a criminal mind in the making. They are clear, however, that the intent with sharing the information is not to label children as criminals, but rather to shift the thinking to early identification with the intent of intervention. If you or anyone you know are showing signs of being a danger to themselves or others, please call 9-1-1.

According to Psychology Today: Before a person perpetrates a mass shooting, without doubt, he has a long, although perhaps unknown, history of engaging in behavior that was harmful to others. He may never have been apprehended, but a man, woman, or youth does not suddenly commit mass homicide.

Mental health practitioners are unable to identify future mass shooters when the perpetrators of such crimes are of elementary or junior high school age. However, there are patterns of thinking and behavior that expand over time and are encountered by educators who spend day after day instructing their pupils and getting to know them quite well. Many parents are all too familiar with these patterns. The hope is that children exhibiting critically important “errors in thinking” will outgrow them. Some do. But when the patterns intensify and expand over time, trouble lies ahead. We need not and must not wait for a dire act to occur.

I have spent more than forty years evaluating and treating juvenile and adult offenders. The following are warning signs of trouble ahead, perhaps not a mass shooting but, without doubt, behavior that will result in physical, emotional, or financial injury to others:

  • The pursuit of power and control for their own sake (perceiving life as “a one-way street—my way”);
  • Although fully aware of right and wrong and potential consequences of one’s actions, the ability to shut off that knowledge long enough to do whatever one pleases;
  • The failure to develop empathy and a concept of injury to others;
  • Unrealistic expectations and pretensions;
  • Taking the easy way out (seeking rewards and instant results without effort)t;
  • Lying as a way of life (the only regret is being caught for the lie);
  • Blaming other people and refusing to take personal responsibility for one’s actions;
  • Taking an uncompromising position in which a person will resort to any means to achieve his objectives.

Recognizing that parents and teachers may not be able to control many of the choices that children make, I have found that they first must be aware of warning signs such as those above. Failure to heed these almost assures that malevolent behavior will flourish.

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