Sometimes I want to try and understand why some children are cruel to cats and dogs. A lot of other people want to understand it too. It is a hellishly complicated area of study. I guess it’s complicated because the human mind is complicated and when it becomes damaged it is hard to find clarity.
I think I’ve seen one reason why a child might abuse the family pet: the unavailability of a father figure. And that factor may be compounded by the fact that the child did at one stage have a father figure but there was violence between their father and mother and the father left the home. There are two elements, therefore: domestic violence observed by the child and a lack of subsequent guidance by a father figure.
One study entitled: Aggression against cats dogs and people suggested that “Emotional or physical unavailability of a father figure may be a common etiologic factor in childhood cruelty to animals”. The word “etiologic” means causing or contributing to the development of a condition. In other words, the lack of guidance from a good father may be a contributing factor in a child abusing an animal.
Another study entitled: A Qualitative Study of Children’s Accounts of Cruelty to Animals…, involved interviewing children between the ages of 5-12. Ten children were assessed and they found that “only two children reported living with their fathers, although some seemed to visit them, based on children’s reports.”
In other words, 80% of these children who were abusing animals did not have a guiding father figure. They had also been exposed to violence and normalised it. Interestingly, they liked animals and they recognised the fact that they were sentient. Further, they struggled to admit their cruelty.
A common factor then is a lack of a good father figure. As I said it’s complicated and when children are cruel to animals there will be other developmental reasons, often overlapping, which results in these sorts of behaviors (source: Psychology Today for the first 6):
- Cruelty to animals to enhance their mood because they are bored or depressed;
- Because of a phobia and they want to make a pre-emptive attack on an animal that frightens them;
- Identifying an animal with the human who abused them. In attacking the family pet they are emotionally attacking the person that abused them;
- What is called “post-traumatic play”, which means re-enacting violent episodes with an animal victim;
- Imitating their parents who have abused animals;
- Practising violence on the family pet before being violent against humans;
- For me, I think children may desire to take out their anger at what has happened to them, e.g., their father disappearing, on a vulnerable creature which is readily available namely the family pet. This is a release of anger and a method of trying to gain some control over their lives.
- For me, too, there is also the simple fact that kids have a psychopathic tendency. They are natural psychopaths being unaware of the consequences of their actions to the same degree as a well-educated adult.
Below are some more articles on animal cruelty.
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