Conduct Disorder in Teens
Conduct disorder (CD) is sometimes confused with Oppositional Defiant Disorder (ODD), however, children, adolescents, and young adults with CD tend to exhibit behaviors that are more aggressive and hostile. A quick differentiation might be ODD and rule-breaking versus CD and lawbreaking. Individuals with conduct disorder are often described as lacking empathy – they simply have a very difficult time understanding or even caring about how their behavior(s) may physically or emotionally hurt others. This callous disregard for others often begins with pushing, hitting, and biting in early childhood and later progressing to bullying, cruelty, and violence in adolescence. Children and adolescents with conduct disorder display repetitive and persistent behaviors in which they violate the rights of others and basic social rules. These behaviors occur in a variety of settings and cause significant impairment to his or her social, academic, and family functioning.
A key difference between oppositional defiant disorder and conduct disorder lies in the role of control. Children with ODD do not like being controlled – so much so that they will fight against it at every opportunity. Children who have either begun to move or have already moved into conduct disorder will not only fight against being controlled but will attempt to control those around them as well. This sort of behavior can look like they are manipulating others to do what they want, taking things that do not belong to them or using aggression or physical intimidation to control situations.
The symptoms of conduct disorder generally fall into the following four categories:
These are behaviors that threaten or cause physical harm and may include fighting, bullying, being cruel to others or animals, using weapons, and forcing another into sexual activity.
This involves intentional destruction of property such as arson (deliberate fire-setting) and vandalism (harming another person's property).
This may include repeated lying, shoplifting, or breaking into homes or cars in order to steal.
Violation of rules/laws
This involves going against accepted rules of society or engaging in behavior that is not appropriate for the person's age. These behaviors may include running away, skipping school, playing pranks, or being sexually active at a very young age.
Parents that have children with conduct disorder describe feeling scared – have a fear of living with their child, a fear of disciplining their child or just fear in general. If this sounds like you or your child, you may want to use the Heads Up Checkup symptom checker to validate your observations and concerns.
How common is conduct disorder?
Conduct disorder is more common in boys than in girls. It typically begins in late childhood or in the early teen years. Approximately 2% to 16% of children in the United States are believed to have conduct disorder.
What causes conduct disorder?
Many parents of children with conduct disorder wonder what caused their child to develop CD. This wonder often turns into to self-blame. If this sounds familiar, it’s important to keep in mind that there is no one thing you did as a parent to cause your child to develop conduct disorder. The exact cause of conduct disorder is unknown. Many professionals believe that conduct disorder is a combination of biological, genetic, environmental, psychological, and social factors. Biologically speaking, some studies have suggested that defects or injuries to certain parts of the brain can lead to behavior disorders, such as ODD or conduct disorder. In other studies, conduct disorder has been linked to particular brain regions involved in regulating behavior, impulse control, and emotion. If the nerve cell circuits of these brain regions do not work properly, symptoms of conduct disorder may begin to develop as a result. Genetically speaking, it has been found that many children and adolescents with conduct disorder have relatives who suffer from mood disorders, anxiety disorders, personality disorders, and substance use disorders; suggesting a possible genetic link. Environmentally speaking, a dysfunctional family life, history of childhood abuse, traumatic experiences, or inconsistent discipline by parents may contribute to the development of conduct disorder. From the perspective of psychology, some professionals believe that conduct disorders can reflect deficits in cognitive processing and problems with moral awareness. It has been found that children and adolescents with low socioeconomic status and/or lack of acceptance by their peers are risk factors for the development of CD.
Research indicates that children and adolescents with conduct disorder typically suffer from other behavioral disorders such as depression, substance abuse, anxiety, learning challenges, or attention-deficit/hyperactivity (ADHD).
If you feel that your child or adolescent is displaying many of the symptoms of CD, it is important to get help as soon as possible. If left untreated, your child may be at an increased risk of failing or dropping out of school, substance abuse, legal problems, injuries to self or others due to violent behaviors, incarceration, sexually transmitted diseases, depression, or suicide.
How can I get help for my child with conduct disorder?
There are a variety of treatment options for you and your family. A professional behavioral health therapist can identify which treatment options would suit your family best based on many factors, such as your child’s age, the severity of symptoms displayed, and your child’s ability to participate in specific therapies. Nonetheless, treatment for conduct disorder typically consists of counseling aimed at helping your child learn more adaptive ways to express and control his or her anger. The most common and effective form of therapy is cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), which aims to reshape your child's thinking to better improve his or her problem-solving skills, moral reasoning skills, impulse control, and anger management.
Family therapy has also been shown to be effective in improving family interactions and communication. Through family therapy, parents are able to learn techniques to positively help alter their child’s behaviors at home. Family therapy may also help families create a more nurturing, supportive, and consistent home environment with an appropriate balance between love and discipline to decrease the frequency of symptoms related to CD.