Dear Rhonda and Dr. Cheri: Therapy needed for kids who abuse animals
Editor’s note: Letters to Rhonda and Dr. Cheri come from around the U.S. via their website and are not necessarily from Prescott.
Dear Rhonda and Dr. Cheri,
I just watched a horrifying video on my 6-year-old son’s phone. He was casually torturing his friend’s cat. His friend was there and didn’t say anything.
My son was tying the cat’s tail with a string and then pulling it so the cat would chase its tail. My son would laugh, even when he heard the cat crying in pain.
I told my husband what happened. He said not to call it “torturing” because our son has never had an animal (due to his allergies) and didn’t yet understand how to treat animals.
I called my former therapist and told him what happened and my husband’s reaction.
The therapist said we all need therapy to help my son. He said it’s not behavior to be ignored, and then said, “Just look it up on the internet … children who abuse animals are the ones who become serial killers.”
I feel like I am in the middle of two extreme opinions, my husband’s casual opinion that my son need only to be exposed to more animals and learn that they have feelings also … and my worry that my son is going to grow up to be a serial killer.
I am just sick about it. I don’t know where my son got this behavior.
Signed, Animal lover
Dear Animal lover,
Please be direct with your son. Do not react with the horror you feel now. Stay calm and let him know you love him.
Don’t reward him, but love him.
Your son may be the recipient of, or witness to, violence and abuse of some kind. You and your family need professional therapy to explore his experiences.
In fact, we recommend a child therapist for your son and a family therapist for all of you together.
He may feel powerless from abuse he may be receiving or witnessing. He may not know how to express himself appropriately, so he acted out his power on an animal.
Statistically, it is true that violent criminals and killers often were perpetrators of childhood animal abuse.
However, that fact doesn’t tell the full story of a child’s experiences witnessing animal, child, or any abuse.
Children can become numb to violence with news, constant images on games, or with the internet and social media.
The reality is, this may be a one-time incident and may not signal any truly violent or malicious tendencies. A child therapist can help you make that determination.
Your son has a phone at age 6? Why does he need a phone at that tender age? We do not condone phones at that age because children will witness inappropriate (often violent) images that desensitize the empathy response, among other things.
Violence is everywhere as entertainment. Your son needs to learn coping skills, communication skills, and empathy. Please take his phone away and replace entertainment and amusement with your real-life attention, play, love and guidance.
You said, a couple of times, “my son.” We are wondering if you might be accepting all the parenting responsibilities, which is unhealthy for all of you.
Your husband can benefit from therapy also, especially if you are tolerating his preference for adults more than learning how to help parent “his” son.
All of you need healthy bonding activities together that do not involve any media at all.
Signed, Rhonda and Dr. Cheri
Rhonda Orr is the president and founder of the Prescott-based Rhonda’s STOP BULLYING Foundation. Dr. Cheri L. McDonald, PhD, LMFT, is a crime-victim specialist. Send your anonymous questions to Rhonda@rhondastopbullying.org. Find out more about Rhonda’s STOP BULLYING Foundation at www. rhondastopbullying.org.