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Why Do Kids Kill?

Updated: Dec 14, 2023


The act of murder is shocking, and when kids are the killers, we are especially concerned.

Children are not supposed to be so wanton, so tainted, so frightening. There is a common belief in the innocence of the young, a hope for their future against which the sobering episodes of violent behavior raise profound questions for society.

Although most people have murderous thoughts, very few of us act on them. We do not know

exactly what causes one person to take the life of another, but we do recognize varying patterns of homicide. Perhaps the most prevalent contemporary pattern is gang-related murder. Some of these acts seem to be violence for the sake of violence; others are associated with turf, the drug trade, exaggerated “macho” exploits and initiation rites.

Unfortunately, kids kill for other reasons too. For example, juvenile murders often are planned

acts committed in conjunction with other criminal offenses. Kids also are involved in

interpersonal conflicts, many of which result in the murder of a friend, acquaintance or family

member. Other juvenile murder patterns include psychotic, sex-related and “senseless.”

Exactly what the “lethal spark” may be that distinguishes killers from non-killers is not known.

Hence, the ability of clinicians to predict exactly who will commit murder is nearly impossible.

What we do know, however, is that there are identifiable influences of society, school, family

and psychology observed in kids who kill. Kids who kill (as well as many others involved in

violent or illegal acts) tend to be influenced by the factors listed below.

Social Factors

  • Availability of drugs

  • Decay of neighborhoods

  • Disputes over money, romance or territory

  • Easy access to firearms

  • Gang participation

  • Homelessness

  • Peer pressure

  • Poverty

  • Racism and prejudice

  • Unemployment

  • Violence in the media

Educational Factors

  • Disruptive classroom behaviors

  • Dropping out

  • Failing grades

  • Lack of motivation to learn

  • Learning difficulties

  • Poor student/teacher relationships

  • Suspensions and expulsions

  • Truancy

  • Violence in and around school

Family Factors

  • Absence of moral standards

  • Experiencing or witnessing domestic violence

  • Extreme sibling rivalry or discord

  • Family financial problems

  • Family members who are or were gang members

  • Parents who abuse alcohol or other drugs

  • Parents who were abused or neglected as children

  • Parents with a delinquent or criminal history

  • Parents with a history of mental illness

  • Physical, emotional or sexual abuse

  • Poor parent/child relationships

  • Prolonged stress within the family or between family members

  • Serious neglect (especially during formative years)

Psychological Factors

  • Acute, smoldering anger

  • Alcohol or other drug intoxication

  • Antisocial attitudes and values

  • Bed-wetting

  • Chronic lying

  • Depression

  • Faulty impulse control

  • Feelings of alienation

  • Fire-setting

  • Head injury

  • History of delinquent acts

  • History of violent behavior

  • Inability to form or maintain meaningful relationships

  • Lack of conscience and concern for others

  • Low self-esteem

  • Mental deficiencies

  • Neurological impairments

  • Obsessive fascination with the occult or Satanism

  • Personality disorders

  • Poor coping ability

  • Poor emotional control

  • Psychosis

  • Serious or prolonged stress

  • Sexual dysfunction or promiscuity *

*Adapted from our book, Kids Who Kill

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