Behavior Problems and Disorders

How can you tell if your teen’s behavior is a problem? Could it be just ‘normal teenage rebellion’ or is it a behavior disorder?

behavior problemsAll children are oppositional from time to time, particularly when tired, hungry, stressed or upset. They may argue, talk back, disrespect and defy parents, teachers, and other adults. This is often a normal part of early adolescence.

As teens are growing and learning, they will sometimes do some very risky things that cause problems at home, with their peers, and in the school and community. Perhaps the most important questions for parents to consider are,

How much distress, disruption, and heartache is your child’s behavior causing?

How is your child’s behavior affecting the family and your marriage?

If the defiant behavior is frequent, then it may be a behavioral disorder such as Oppositional Defiant Disorder (ODD), a pattern of negative, defiant and hostile behavior, or Conduct Disorder, where your child repeatedly and persistently violates rules and the rights of others without concern or empathy.

The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Health Disorders of the American Psychiatric Association defines oppositional defiant disorder (ODD) as a recurrent pattern of negativistic, defiant, disobedient, and hostile behavior toward authority figures that persists for at least 6 months.

Children with ODD often lose their temper, argue with adults, push boundaries, actively defy requests, refuse to follow rules, deliberately annoy other people, and blame others for their own mistakes or misbehavior. They are also often stubborn, easily annoyed or angered, resentful, and spiteful or vindictive.

These behaviors cause significant difficulties with family and friends, with the oppositional behaviors the same both at home and in school.  Sometimes, ODD may be a precursor of conduct disorder.

Risk factors for teen behavior problems

  • Family conflict
  • Academic failure in elementary school
  • Friends who engage in alcohol and drug use, delinquent behavior, violence, or other problem behaviors
  • Peer rejection
  • Family history of a problem behavior
  • Condoning parental attitudes to problem behavior
  • Witnessing family violence

Family instability, including economic stress, parental mental illness, harshly punitive behaviors, inconsistent parenting practices, multiple moves, and divorce may also contribute to the development of oppositional and defiant behaviors.

Helping your child replace defiant, oppositional behavior with responsible behavior

  • Family and individual counseling to determine underlying issues and learn strategies for behavior change.
  • Coaching for support and guidance in finding solutions and getting the results you want
  • Support groups for guidance, and empowerment
  • Parenting programs to help learn ways of providing consistency, boundaries and structure, and a positive, respectful, less stressful home environment
  • A strong and positive working relationship between parents and teachers

Here are some important things that parents can do

Listen to your teen. Listening and valuing your teen’s ideas opens the way for good communication. Most parents do not listen well because they are too busy with work, community, and home responsibilities. Listening to your teen does not mean giving advise or trying to correct the situation.

Talk about morals and ethical behavior. Passing along a strong sense of values is a fundamental task of being a parent. Parents need to talk to their children about what is right and wrong, and about appropriate and inappropriate behavior.

Deal with what’s important. Don’t make a fuss about issues that are reversible or don’t directly threaten your child’s or another person’s safety. These issues include a messy room, torn jeans, etc. Deal with more important concerns. Safety is a non-negotiable issue. Safety rules need to be stated clearly and enforced consistently.

Have boundaries and be consistent. There will be times when teens won’t like what you say or will act as though they don’t like you. Being your teen’s friend is not your role as a parent. It’s important to resist the urge to win their favor or try too hard to please them.

Avoid arguments. Arguing only fuels hostility and it doesn’t get you heard. Don’t feel obliged to judge everything your teen says. Retain the mutual right to disagree. Never try to reason with someone who is upset ― it is futile. Wait until tempers have cooled off before trying to sort out a disagreement. Don’t try to talk teens out of their feelings. You can acknowledge someone’s reaction without condoning it. This type of response often defuses anger.

More information on behavior problems and disorders

Adolescent Violence Towards Parents Parent abuse is defined as any act of a child that creates fear in, and is intended to hurt, parents. As with domestic abuse, it includes physical, emotional, and financial abuse.

Learning to Lie Children lie early, often, and for all sorts of reasons ― to avoid punishment, to bond with friends, to gain a sense of control. How does this habit of lying develop?

Oppositional Defiant Disorder Comprehensive information about ODD, including prevalence, risk factors, treatment, and obstacles to treatment.

The Broad Continuum of Conduct and Behavioral Problems Information from the American Academy of Pediatrics.

When Inappropriate Behavior is Just Plain Wrong  It’s absolutely critical that we are willing to use a moral language with kids when discussing the consequences of their behavior. There are such things as ‘good’ and ‘bad’ behaviors ― not just choices that lead to instrumental consequences, such as being popular and getting along. Some actions are wrong no matter what. Even if everyone in school thought that stealing was the coolest thing in the world, it would still be wrong.

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