The Good Son
When I was younger, I watched a film starring a very young Macualay Culkin and Elijah Wood, titled “The Good Son.” The film is about a young boy named Mark, (Elijah Wood) who stays with his Aunt and Uncle after his mother dies. He befriends his cousin, Henry (Macualay Culkin), who is the same age as him. At first the relationship between Henry and Mark is brother like, with Henry showing Mark the shed where he tinkers and creates objects. Slowly, Henry reveals who he is truly is, an embodiment of evil.
I enjoyed the film. How can someone be amoral, I wondered, and inconsiderate of others? Was it nature? Or Was as it nurture? The film introduced me to childhood behavior disorders such as Oppositional Defiant Disorder and Conduct Disorder.
Oppositional Defiant Disorder
Oppositional Defiant Disorder is characterized by frequent and persistent pattern of an angry/irritable mood, argumentative/defiant behavior, and vindictiveness. Sometimes this behavior of this disorder only shows in one setting (the home), or in more severe cases, multiple settings. The behavior usually starts in preschool and rarely shows no later than early adolescence. 1
Henry, shows signs of ODD. Throughout the film he’s quietly upset that he’s not the center of his parents’ attention. He attempted to kill his sister’s life, and it is implied that he killed his baby brother.
Conduct Disorder is similar to ODD and generally shows up in adolescence. It also includes delinquent behaviors that such as physical violence, reckless thrill seeking, and dishonesty.2
Henry has traits of Conduct Disorder. In one scene, he deliberately tossed an old stuffed dummy off a highway overpass and caused a chain reaction accident that stretched over to the main town. Another scene showed him provoking a neighbor’s guard dog to chase him.
Strong therapies for ODD are parent training, helping the child develop tolerance to frustration, and avoiding emotional overreaction. Ineffective therapies are physical punishment, supplements, and medication.1 Strong therapies for Conduct Disorder are parent training, changing the child’s environment, and sometimes “Scared Straight” programs.2 Ineffective therapies for Conduct Disorder are the same as ODD.
I wonder how mothers of ODD and Conduct disorder children handle it? Do they ever experience compassion fatigue? Do they every feel like wishing their child was never born? If I was Henry’s mother, I would get him into therapy, and if he causes more harm, into Involuntary Psychiatric Hold (51/50).
Last Chance High
Recently, I watched a documentary series entitled “Last Chance High,” which is documentary about Montefiore High School, a school for Chicago’s most at-risk youth. Throughout the documentary, many of the students have similar traits to Henry, but it was easier to understand their behavior because of the rough and tumble environment where they grew up. One student in fourth grade cussed at her teachers and administrators. Another kid got into fights when other kids made fun of his speech problem.
Is it Biological or is it Environmental?
Unlike Henry, who lived in an affluent neighborhood, these kids acted the way they did because of the models around them. Is ODD and Conduct disorder a behavior that is developed from birth, like the case of Henry? Or is it environment based, like the students at Montefiore High School? Can it be both?
Photo Courtesy: By Chris Willis from Palo Alto, California, USA (It’s a Braun definitely) [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons