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Posted May 4, 2005

Dr. Ken Magid and Carole A. McKelvey
Bantam, Doubleday, Dell: 1990
ISBN: 0553346679

Book Review by: Anita Biase

High Risk Children without a Conscience is a book about high-risk children that deals with the symptoms, causes and possible contributing factors leading to psychopathic behavior in adults while describing the symptoms that herald the genesis of anti-social personality disorders in children. It differs from other books on this subject by not exaggerating or resorting to buzzwords or prefabricated assumptions. The authors use research studies and case histories to illustrate the problem and reinforce their opinions.

The authors are very specific about the definition of high-risk children, which is important because several federally funded programs and numerous research studies are aimed at identifying at-risk children, a term that is often associated with poor, minority families. Although the authors give examples of the prevalence of high-risk children among teenage and/or single working mothers, they also make it clear that in a society where two-income families are the norm, high-risk children can come from any social strata.

The book is organized into five major sections. The first section deals with an overview of the condition and the risk it presents to society. It describes the diagnostic criteria in detail and provides a checklist of symptoms. The next chapter is concerned with the symptoms, and the following chapter outlines the causes and contributors to this condition. Subsequent chapters provide information concerning prevention and treatment of this disorder.

According to the authors, "most psychopaths are highly intelligent and use their intelligence to con and manipulate others with their charm having done so since they were children. They are compulsive liars and have no concern for the feelings of others."

The Symptoms:
The authors believe unattached children find it difficult to give and receive affection. They are cruel to other people, animals, resist authority, have problems with stealing, have few long-term friends and display an obsession with blood and gore.

The Causes:
So what causes children to develop anti-social personalities? Magid and McKelvey maintain that the most important contributor to the incidence of high-risk children is a lack of bonding. The authors say it is in the first year of life that a child learns to bond and attach to the primary caregiver (mother) and then extend their attachment to the father. If the child does not form an adequate attachment, he/she feels uncared for and lost. Consequently, the child learns to mistrust everyone and becomes hostile and resentful. As a result, this lack of trust prevents the child from learning to care for others and prohibits his ability to develop a conscience.

Other Factors:
Magid and McKelvey believe that some of the factors contributing to the development of unattached children include the loss of quality daycare, lack of extended periods of time for maternity leave, foster care, child abuse and teenage pregnancy. The authors believe that "daycare is not merely a dilemma in finding satisfactory care, but a part of the problem since the effects of separation from the mother are a painful burden endured by very young infants and children." Children who have been in and out of different foster homes from an early age are also at-risk for becoming psychopaths. These "multiple placements are interpreted by the child as rejections." Accompanying the infant daycare crisis and problems with adoptions is the soaring rate of illegitimacy. Nationally, approximately one-third of births are to single mothers and the majority of these births are to teenagers below age 17. "The results of illegitimacy are poverty, quitting school and child abuse. When the infant becomes the cause of the mother's unhappiness, abuse is often the result."

High Risk concludes by saying that it will take a nationwide public effort to solve all of the tribulations that occurred from bringing up generations of un-bonded children, but the authors feel that positive parenting and parental leave will go a long way towards preventing the child without a conscience.

I recommend this book to parents, therapists and the general public because I feel that Dr. Ken Magid and Carole A. McKelvey have written an important study of the unattached child. Anyone who is concerned about the increasing incidents of violence in our society will be interested in reading it. High Risk Children without a Conscience is a tremendous contribution to our understanding of this ever-increasing problem.

About the Authors:
Dr. Ken Magid is the chief of psychological services at Golden Medical Clinic in Golden, CO, and co-director of the behavioral science department for family practice physicians at Saint Joseph Hospital in Denver. His work has been featured on NBC's today show and many publications. Carole A. McKelvey is a journalist who has won numerous awards for her writing and editing. Her work has appeared in a variety of publications nationally and on Hour Magazine.

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Copyright © 2005, Woodbury Reports, Inc.
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