Even the most well-behaved teens can have moments where they’re difficult and challenging, pushing their parents’ buttons and testing boundaries. It’s a normal part of growing up and becoming autonomous individuals.
However, parents sometimes notice a much more serious pattern of ongoing negative behavior from their teens. The teenager becomes uncooperative, hostile, defiant and argumentative especially towards authority figures. These behaviors end up disrupting not only the teens’ life but also their families’, interrupting their daily functioning.
With time, these behaviors become more extreme and damaging and the whole family ends up suffering as they bear the brunt of their teen’s disorderliness.
Contrary to what most think, such teens might not just be “difficult”, they might have what is known as behavioral disorder, sometimes also referred to as disruptive behavior disorder (DBD). It is characterized by behavioral problems which may include excessive defiance and hostility in affected teens and often causes disruptions to the people and activities around them.1
The two most common forms of behavioral disorders are oppositional defiant disorder (ODD)2 and conduct disorder (CD).
Left untreated, these disorders can go on to affect the teen’s quality of life, severely limiting their ability to form and maintain relationships or even hold jobs. With proper therapy and care, affected teens can go on to have a relatively normal life. Early diagnosis and treatment present the best outlook for those with behavioral disorder.
Causes and Risk Factors of Behavioral Disorders
It’s thought that behavioral disorders are caused by a mix of different factors working together, including genetic, physical and environmental causes.
Knowing what causes these disorders could go a long way towards helping parents, educators and medical experts come up with preventive measures. Additionally, understanding the underlying causes also helps professionals discern which treatment will be more effective in assisting affected teens to get their lives back on track.
While some of the causes of behavioral disorders are genetic (teens with parents suffering from some form of mental illness are highly susceptible) or physical (e.g. imbalanced neurotransmitters in the brain or a poorly formed frontal lobe), environmental trauma and other psychological components play a large role in manifesting or worsening the disorder.
The environment that teens grow up in can have a huge impact on whether or not they develop behavioral disorder.3 If teens spend time in a chaotic home, with abusive or violent parents, they may start acting out because this is the only way they have to control the situation and cope with the chaos around them. Their defiance, hostility and antagonism become their way of taking back their power. The same thing happens if teens are raised in an environment with discipline that’s too lax or harsh, absentee parents or poor supervision.
Environmental or psychological components and risk factors that might lead to — or worsen — already-existing behavioral disorder include:
- Witnessing domestic violence or substance abuse at home
- An unhealthy, inconsistent or overly harsh discipline style
- Physical or sexual abuse
- Emotional abuse or neglect from parents or caregivers
- Divorce, poorly managed marital issues or other emotional upset in the home
- Separation from parents at infancy and receiving poor foster care
Behavioral disorders often go hand in hand with other mental illnesses. Teens with ODD or CD also often have:
- Attention-Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)
- Substance abuse disorders
- Mood disorders, e.g. depression4
- Anxiety disorders
- Learning disabilities
The symptoms of these co-occurring disorders often overlap with those of behavioral disorder making diagnosis rather tricky. When it comes to treatment, both the behavioral disorder and the co-occurring ones have to be addressed if the teen is to lead a normal productive life.
Treatment for Behavioral Disorders
No two teens experience behavioral disorder in the exact same way so treatment varies according to the individual, the possible causes or risk factors as well as the co-occurring disorders present.
The most common modes of treatment for behavioral disorder includes:
While medication won’t necessarily cure the disorder, it’s effective in helping manage or control some of the symptoms. Some medicines are also useful in modifying behavior. It is imperative that parents ensure all medication is taken in strict accordance to the given prescriptions to avoid overdosing or other complications.
Psychotherapy for behavioral disorder is common and the particular method chosen may be one that’s used for a wide variety of disorders or one that has been found to work extremely well with the specific disorder in question. The most common types of therapy for teens with behavioral disorder include:
- Cognitive behavior therapy – This method employs various techniques to help the teen uncover their thought processes, examine the validity of those thoughts and come up with more positive thoughts and behaviors.5
- Parent-child interaction therapy – The premise behind this form of therapy is re-training both parents and teens on how to communicate and interact with each other while keeping family needs in focus. Parents are encouraged to come up with consistent routines in addition to clear systems of rewards and consequences for proper and improper behavior.
The environment a teen grows up in plays an immense role in how they turn out. It’s therefore important for parents to do their best to give teens a positive, healthy, conducive and supportive environment to bring out the best in them.
- Disruptive behavior disorders. (2008). Retrieved from http://behaviordisorder.org/articles19.html [↩]
- Oppositional defiant disorder [infographic]. (n.d.) Retrieved from https://www.liahonaacademy.com/oppositional-defiant-disorder-infographic-info.html [↩]
- Signs & symptoms of disruptive behavior disorder. (n.d.) Retrieved from https://www.valleybehavioral.com/disorders/disruptive-behavior/signs-symptoms-causes/ [↩]
- Depression and behavior disorder. (2008). Retrieved from http://behaviordisorder.org/articles6.html [↩]
- Cognitive behavior therapy. (2009). Retrieved from http://www.struggling-teens.com/content/cognitive-behavior-therapy.html [↩]