NORMAN — Q: My 18-year-old son and a slightly younger friend recently found some mice and decided to dispose of them. They drowned one and set the other one on fire. When I confronted my son for torturing animals, his response was “They’re just mice.” Is this typical boy behavior or should I be concerned?
A: This may be “boy behavior” in that boys are certainly more likely to do such things than girls, but it is definitely not typical boy behavior. Animal torture and abuse is a very strong marker of Antisocial Personality Disorder.
The website “How to Spot a Sociopath” (wikihow.com/Spot-a-Sociopath) defines APD as a “disregard for the feelings of others, a lack of remorse or shame, manipulative behavior, unchecked egocentricity and the ability to lie to achieve one’s goals.”
The mere fact that your son tortured mice to death is not, in and of itself, diagnostic, but it certainly raises suspicions.
His cavalier attitude when you confronted him raises those suspicions even higher.
The question turns on whether other aspects of your son’s behavior fit the criteria. It is possible, in other words, for a person to exhibit an isolated sociopathic behavior without actually being a sociopath.
If, however, your son habitually lies, seems callous toward the problems of others, is generally narcissistic and often manipulative of others, then I would recommend a professional evaluation.
He’s still young enough that if he’s confronted with a problem of this sort in a professional setting, he can possibly make some corrections to the direction his life is taking (assuming the evaluation reveals a diagnostic issue).
In fact, even if your son doesn’t exhibit the above markers, a psychological evaluation might be valuable.
If a psychologist gives him a clean bill of health, the process will surely emphasize to him the seriousness of what he did.