Sep 7, 2012

Why do kids kill their parents? – The Opinions of a Professional

Why Kids Kill Parents
A considerable number of people who form part of South Africa’s white minority group, mainly from the conservative Afrikaans-speaking Christian community, were recently astonished, beyond words, by the revelation in the media that a 16-year-old boy was arrested for the gruesome killing of his parents and his 14-year-old sister, without any apparent motive.

The triple-murders, commonly known as the "Steenkamp Murders", took place on a farm in the Northern Cape near the town of Griekwastad, on 6 April 2012. Although there is no direct evidence, in the form of eye-witnesses or a confession from the suspect linking the juvenile to the murders, the State is convinced that they have sufficient circumstantial forensic evidence to secure a conviction. State Forensic Ballistic experts concluded that a .357 Magnum and a .22 rifle were used to commit the murders.

At time of posting the court proceedings are stil underway and have been postponed to 1 October 2012.

The emotional trauma and disbelief associated with the Steenkamp tragedy has been compounded by the fact that Afrikaner farm murders in South Africa are typically accomplished by Black Africans, and often with a cruel sadistic vengeance.

Independent researchers have compiled accurate statistics demonstrating convincingly that murders among White farm owners occur at a rate of 97 per 100,000 per year, compared to 31 per 100,000 per year in the entire South African population, making the murder rate of White SA farmers one of the highest murder rates in the world. -- See in this regard a report, dated 14 August 2012, compiled by Leon Parkin and Gregory H. Stanton, President of Genocide Watch: Why are Afrikaner farmers being murdered in South Africa?

Although juvenile delinquency is a growing trend in South Africa where murders occur at such an alarming rate that the local media can hardly keep up with the reporting thereof, the Steenkamp murders do not exemplify the norm… It is what one might term a statistically unusual event.  Furthermore – the fact that the Steenkamp family were well-respected honourable members of the community (according to media reports), and thus do not fit the description of dysfunctional family, begs the question: Why on earth would an apparently 'stable and normal' 16-year-old child want to wipe out his entire family? What could possibly be the motive for such a drastic and violent action?

I believe questions of this nature can only be answered by people you have the necessary qualifications and expertise in the field.  Kathleen M. Heide (see below) happens to be one of these special people in the world, who has become a specialist of note on the subject. 

TERMS (Commonly used in the U.S.A.):

In South Africa when we speak of murder the Americans often use the term homicide.

As far as murder-terminology goes, here are a few more American inventions:
  • Parricide: technically refers to the killing of a close relative but has become increasingly synonymous with a child killing his or her parents.
  • Matricide: term used to refer to the killing of one's mother.
  • Patricide: term used to refer to the killing of one's father.

Some Stats from the USA:
In 2010, law enforcement agencies across the United States reported to the FBI the victim-offender relationship for 12,996 of the 14,748 victims classified as murdered during that year. Of these, 107 were mothers and 135 were fathers slain by their biological children. These 242 victims represent about 2 percent of murder victims.

Most of the offspring who killed their parents were actually adult children, meaning they were over 18 years of age. Over the 32-year period examined, the number of juvenile parricide offenders was substantially lower. On the average, juveniles killed 31 fathers and 18 mothers per year.

Analyses of data in the USA from 1976-2007 shows that the killings of parents by their biological children have decreased over the last 30 years… If South Africans have any genuine interest in preventing a trend of this nature of increasing, it would be thus advisable to take heed of what Dr. Heide has to say on the matter.

Kathleen M. Heide
Picture Credit: CBS News
Kathleen M. Heide, PhD is professor of criminology at the University of South Florida, Tampa, USA. Dr. Heide's publication record includes more than 100 publications and presentations in the areas of adolescent homicide, family violence, personality assessment, and juvenile justice, along with  two widely acclaimed books on juvenile homicide, "Why Kids Kill Parents: Child Abuse and Adolescent Homicide" and "Young Killers: The Challenge of Juvenile Homicide" - (Not stocked by Kalahari).

Dr. Heide was also a contributor to Kenneth Wooden’s book, "Weeping in the Playtime of Others: America’s Incarcerated Children". The book, published in May 2002 (2nd Edition), describes the condition of juveniles between the age of five and 16 being held in US correctional facilities in the years 1972 to 1975. It documents a high incidence of emotional and physical abuse, torture and exploitation of the children by their keepers.

Her latest book, "Understanding Parricide: When Sons and Daughters Kill Parents" will be published by Oxford University Press in November 2012. – More details here.

Dr. Heide is a licensed mental health counsellor in the State of Florida and has been court-appointed as an expert in Florida Circuit Courts in homicide, sexual battery, juvenile, and family matters.  She is a frequent consultant to the national print and electronic media and numerous international newspapers and magazines.  She received her B.A. from Vassar College in Psychology and her M.A. and Ph.D in Criminal Justice from the State University of New York at Albany.

When Dr. Heide was asked what encouraged her to study parricide, she replied as follows:
“I began evaluating juvenile killers in the early 1980s. Some of these youths had killed their parents. When I heard the stories and investigated the backgrounds of youths who killed their mothers, fathers, or both parents, it was clear that abuse and neglect typically played a role in these killings. The cases of kids who killed parents were very different from adolescents who killed under other circumstances, such as during the commission of a robbery or a burglary. I found cases of young people killing their parents very disturbing and unsettling.”
Kathleen M. Heide – as sourced from CBS News

According to Dr. Heide it is hard to predict violent behaviour, unless there is a history of violent behaviour by a particular individual. She further states that research has indicated there are certain factors, if present, that increase the likelihood of a youth killing a parent. These include:
  • The youth is raised in a chemically dependent or other dysfunctional family.
  • An ongoing pattern of family violence exists in the home.
  • Conditions in the home worsen, and violence escalates.
  • The youth becomes increasingly vulnerable to stressors in the home environment.
  • A firearm is readily available in the home environment.
“When these conditions are present, parents or other adults need to take action to get help. When I see families in these situations, one of the first things I ask is whether there is a firearm in the home. If so, I advise the parents to remove the gun from the home until conditions improve substantially. My research and studies by others show that in the majority of cases, children and adolescents use guns to kill both fathers and mothers. My analyses of thousands of cases show that youths under 18 are significantly more likely to use firearms to kill their parents than adult offenders.”

What does Dr. Heide say about motives?

She found that most cases can be categorized into three primary types of parricide offenders:

Severely abused children (SAC) kill their abusive parent to end the abuse. These individuals have been abused by their parent(s) for years. The abuse is typically known to others.

Dangerously antisocial children (DAC) kill the parent to further their own goals. In these cases, the parent is an obstacle in their path to getting what they want. These individuals, for example, may kill to have more freedom, to continue dating a person to whom the parents object, and to inherit money they believe is eventually coming to them. This type of parricide offender is far more dangerous to society than the first (SAC) in terms of re-offending and hurting other people in the future.

Severely mentally ill children (SMIC) kill the parent largely as a result of severe mental illness. Diagnoses commonly made include psychosis and severe depression. They may kill the parent, for example, because they have delusions (bizarre and irrational beliefs) that the parent is the devil. They may report hearing God's voice commanding them (an hallucination -- false sensory experience) to kill the parent.

Take note: The above is only a summary of the main points. Readers who are interested in learning more should either purchase Dr. Heide's publications, or alternatively - surf over to an online article titled Q&A: Why kids kill their parents, by Kathleen M. Heide – (CBS News)

Related Post on the Tia Mysoa Blog:
A follow-up on recent events concerning the Griekwastad-murders

Weeping in the playtime of others
Author: Kenneth Wooden
Contributor: Kathleen M. Heide
Publisher: Ohio State University Press
ISBN: 9780814250631
Publication date: May 2002 (2nd Edition)
Readership: Tertiary education; Professional & scholarly

Young Killers: The Challenge of Juvenile Homicide
Author: Kathleen M. Heide
Publisher: Sage Publications, Inc; 1 edition (July 16, 1998)
ISBN: 9780761900627
ORDERS: - (Not stocked by Kalahari)