Conduct disorder affects 2 to 16% of American teens. For many who do not get diagnosed and treated, this disorder can manifest into substance abuse, continued destructive behavioral problems and even suicide.
So how do you know if your teen’s behavior is conduct disorder and not just typical teen rebellion? A mental health professional is the person who will ultimately diagnose your teen but as a parent, you can look for these signs that may indicate your teen has conduct disorder.
Fighting, bullying, being cruel to others or animals, using weapons and forcing another into sexual activity are signs of aggression that no parent should ignore. A teen with conduct disorder is angrier than their peers. Parents should pay special attention to the once happy teen that now seems to have become “darker” and gravitates towards angry music, a “emo”-type style of dressing (dark clothing) and any other major personality changes that indicate extreme anger.
Many teens seem to take for granted the possessions that you work so hard to give them. The teen with a conduct disorder intentionally shows a lack of respect for property, either their own property or someone else’s. They may be involved in acts of vandalism or even arson.
Teens lie but the teen with conduct disorder lies more often. The teen may also shoplift, break into homes or cars. They seem unable to take responsibility for their own actions and place blame on others or deny involvement.
Violation of rules
Rebellion is sometimes normal in many teens. The teen with conduct disorder goes a step further than normal rebellion. Accepted rules of society are begging to be broken in the eyes of a teen with conduct disorder. They often engage in behavior that is inappropriate for their age such as being sexually active. They also may run away, skip school, play hurtful pranks and rebel against any rule that is given to them.
Surviving the teen years when your teen is out of control can turn a household upside down. You may try to discipline your teen but they will react angrily and a parent can feel like they have no control because they don’t.
What is the solution to dealing with a teen with conduct disorder? Cognitive behavioral therapy seems to be the only “cure” for this disorder. The sooner the disorder is recognized, the better chance of the teen learning how to deal correctly with their anger issues.
The exact cause of conduct disorder is not known, like many mental illnesses, it is believed that it is a combination of biological, genetic, environmental and social factors. Research shows that many who have conduct disorders also suffer from other mental illnesses, such as attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), learning disorders, depression, substance abuse or an anxiety disorder.
Genetics also seem to play a part in determining the risk of developing conduct disorder. A dysfunctional family life, abuse, traumatic experiences and inconsistent discipline may also contribute. Self-esteem issues are also a factor. Many children and teens with conduct disorders seem to have low self-esteem.
Instead of trying to place blame for why your teen may have conduct disorder, the best thing that a parent can do is to seek help. Group and individual therapy can help your teen. Get support for yourself also.
Parenting a teen with a conduct disorder may feel like you need to walk on eggshells in order to not set them off on an angry tirade. You cannot run your household that way and all you are doing is enabling your teen’s negative behavior.
If you suspect your teen has a conduct disorder, get them evaluated. If you are living with a teen that has been diagnosed with conduct disorder, the following tips can help.
One day at a time
Your teen is in therapy, you are doing everything humanly possible for him/her. You need to also be concerned with other members of your family and yourself. Every day that you get through is a victory.
Choose your battles
When you are dealing with a teen with conduct disorder, you are trying to reason with someone who is unable to accept responsibility for their actions. Don’t allow their conduct disorder to be an excuse for their bad behavior. Do compliment them on when they do control their reactions. Positive reinforcement can help. Loosen up a little on your expectations. Stick to what is most important to you as far as their behavior goes.
Understanding actions have consequences
Just as if your teen was a small child, remind them of consequences for their actions. Follow through on punishments. You might think that your teen is just immature but the truth is that they probably have a sense that what they are doing is wrong. This is part of their “sneaky” behavior. They cannot be angry (although they probably will be) when they misbehave and are punished if you warn them about consequences.
Some people may look at disorders like conduct disorder as a result of bad parenting. Do not beat yourself up and fall into this trap. You must deal with what your teen is doing right now. Have hope that you are getting them therapy and eventually they will begin to learn how to behave and thrive in the world.
It isn’t easy to raise a teen with conduct disorder but being a parent is not an easy job. Parents of teens with conduct disorder just have a bigger challenge.