Sociopathy and Psychopathy in Teens

Sociopathy and Psychopathy in Teens

Although many teen behaviors are often written off as kids being kids or life lessons, some beg the question, is there something bigger going on here? 

Sociopathy, psychopathy, and antisocial personality disorder are intense diagnoses that can be mistaken for each other and can spark fear in parents. When children start to display symptoms of these mental health disorders, the child will need a significant amount of help and patience, as well as strict guidance from parents and mental health professionals.

Antisocial Personality Disorder

Antisocial Personality Disorder (ASPD) is described as “a deeply ingrained and rigid dysfunctional thought process that focuses on social irresponsibility with exploitive, delinquent, criminal behavior with no remorse.” Those suffering from ASPD will consistently cross boundaries, break the rules, and flout regulations of any kind. They do so knowingly and feel no empathy for anyone harmed by their behavior. ASPD can be observed in children as early as eight years old but will likely be diagnosed as a conduct disorder until the age of 18. ASPD can be genetic, but it can also be a product of a child’s environment; ASPD is often observed in those who have suffered neglect, physical abuse, sexual abuse, or trauma. Those with ASPD may struggle to hold a job or avoid criminal charges. ASPD is recognized on the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) and is diagnosed if a person meets the following DSM-5 criteria:

Total disregard and violation for the rights of others since the age of 15, indicated by three or more of the following:

#1. Failure to conform to social norms, like laws or rules

#2. Repeated, malicious, deceitful lying; conning others for pleasure or using an alias

#3. Impulsivity

#4. Aggressiveness and irritability

#4. Reckless disregard for others’ safety

#5. Consistent irresponsibility, failure to honor or hold a job, and deceitful with money

#6. Lack of remorse

#7. Is 18 years old

#8. Shows evidence of conduct disorder, normally before 15 years of age

#9. Antisocial behaviors are not limited to a schizophrenic or bipolar episode

There is no outright cure for ASPD. However, with therapy, guidance from mental health professionals, and medication for any co-occurring disorders, clients can begin to learn some social skills. The best way to treat ASPD is with early intervention as guided by a mental health professional and a strong support system.


Psychopathy is sometimes referred to as psychopathic personality disorder, though psychopathy is the disorder’s true term. Psychopathy is described as “a neuropsychiatric disorder marked by deficient emotional responses, lack of empathy, and poor behavioral controls, commonly resulting in persistent antisocial deviance and criminal behavior.” There are many reasons one may observe psychopathy in children. Like with ASPD, childhood trauma, neglect, and abuse can play a part. Psychopathy may also be genetic, especially when it comes to brain development. Scientists studying psychopathy have deemed genetic psychopathy “primary psychopathy,” whereas psychopathy as a trauma response is “secondary psychopathy.” Psychopathy is not recognized by the DSM-5 but has many, if not all, symptoms under ASPD. Some key differences in those suffering from psychopathy include:

  • Premeditated deviance. Many with ASPD are more impulsive with their actions or rule-breaking, whereas those suffering from psychopathy often act with premeditated malice.
  • A person suffering from psychopathy may pretend to care to manipulate, whereas someone with ASPD will often make it clear they do not care.
  • Those with psychopathy may have the ability to hold a job, have a family, and “blend in” to cover any negative actions.

Psychopathy can be observed in children, though it may be hard to detect. Often those with psychopathy have strengths in observing, learning, and using this knowledge to manipulate and hide any negative actions. There is no outright cure for psychopathy, but treatment for children who struggle with psychopathic tendencies does exist.

Name and Blame

Many people will use the terms “sociopath” or “psychopath” when referring to ASPD or psychopathy. The term “sociopath” is an informal term that is normally used to describe antisocial personality disorder. Many also get sociopath confused with the term psychopath. The trouble with these terms is that they label a person as their diagnosis rather than a real person with a diagnosis. Although those who suffer from ASPD or psychopathy must be held responsible for their actions, they are not responsible for their diagnosis, as they were likely born with it. These disorders are a true change in the brain, either lasting since birth or being born from significant childhood trauma or abuse. Using terms like “sociopath” and “psychopath” increases the stigma surrounding the disorder, using the name to place blame on the person, not the disorder.

When It’s Not ASPD or Psychopathy

It’s worth noting that not every child who displays these behaviors earns a diagnosis of ASPD or psychopathy. Talk to a mental health professional today if you’re worried about your child’s behaviors. There may be a fix or a different diagnosis that, once reached, can significantly help your child understand themselves better.

For parents of children who display the negative behaviors associated with psychopathy and ASPD, the diagnosis can be scary and difficult to navigate. Helping a child who displays such alarming behaviors can be devastating, and it may take more help than parents can give. If you’re concerned for your child’s well-being, call Havenwood Academy. At Havenwood Academy, our goal is to get to the root of your child’s trauma and care for resulting mental health concerns. Our long-term care facility uses research-based, therapeutic practices to treat your child’s trauma and diagnosis. If your child has no diagnosis, never fear. We’ll meet them where they are and work with them. We offer a multi-faceted approach to treatment using multiple therapies and taking the interests and strengths of your daughter into consideration. If you need more help with your child due to behaviors and trauma, call us at (435) 586-2500 to talk more about treatment at Havenwood Academy.


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