What Are Conduct Disorders?

Conduct disorders are a type of mental illness diagnosed in children in which they display consistent or repeated acts of violence, threats, or intimidation outside social norms. Conduct disorder (CD) is a mental illness diagnosed during childhood or adolescence, manifesting through repeated, persistent patterns of behaviors including theft, lying, physical violence, which can result in vandalism, and willful violation of rules, in which basic rights of others or important age-appropriate norms are infringed. When children engage in behavior persistently enough to cause significant problems at home, at school, or with peers, they can be diagnosed with oppositional Defiant Disorder (ODD).

Children with Oppositional Defiant Disorder, while being highly argumentative, do not demonstrate substantial physical aggression, and are unlikely to have any record of trouble with the law. For instance, studies show that the majority of children and adolescents with behavior disorders do not grow up to have behavior problems or problems with the law as adults; the majority of these young people fare well in adulthood, both socially and professionally.

It is also argued that some children may not actually have a behavior disorder (CD) but instead are engaging in developmentally appropriate disruptive behaviors. Neuropsychologists and other researchers have suggested that developing a conduct disorder is in some way linked to deficits in the frontal lobes of the brain, which can prevent children and adolescents from learning from negative experiences and adapting their behaviors. Long-term effects of behavior disorders Left untreated, data shows that people who developed conduct disorders in childhood are at higher risk for displaying criminal behaviors in adulthood.

Children and adolescents who develop the disorder experience increased difficulties following rules, respecting others rights, showing compassion, and acting in a socially appropriate manner. Depression affects the children’s behavioral problems associated with non-consistency, severe discipline, impaired attachment, and minimal supervision. Although parents of children with behavior disorders often experience legitimate and social difficulties themselves, they generally do not wish for the children to experience similar life courses. Family functioning and parental-child interactions also play an important role in children’s aggressiveness and conduct disorders, with lower levels of parental involvement, insufficient supervision, and unpredictable disciplinary practices reinforcing juvenile defiant behaviors.

Both, however, are considered disruptive childhood disorders, typically associated with conflicts between a child and authority figures, violent behaviors, and problems in schools as well as social and family relationships. These may cause a child to have trouble solving problems in his or her peer group, as well as controlling his or her emotions and impulses. As children begin to realize the effects of their behaviors in school and the home, they all will have episodes of disruptive behaviors.

If the child seems to have little awareness of the effects of negative behaviors, and seems not to care about others feelings, it may be an indication that something is wrong. Children exhibiting these behaviors should be evaluated in depth by an experienced mental health professional. Not every child who has a significant problem with antisocial behaviors will receive a mental health evaluation.

An adolescent medicine doctor, a child-adolescent psychiatrist, or qualified mental health provider collects detailed behavioral histories from parents and teachers, and monitors adolescent behaviors, sometimes asking for psychological tests to help make the diagnosis. When diagnosing children or adolescents, the psychiatrist may wish to monitor the children’s behaviors as well as speak to parents and teachers.

If a physician cannot find a physical reason for symptomatic behavior disorders, he or she is likely to refer the child to a child-and-adolescent psychiatrist or psychologist, mental health professionals specially trained to diagnose and treat mental illnesses in children and teens. Sometimes doctors can prescribe medications to manage symptoms of disorder or address other potential causes of the mental disorder. If your teen has another mental health condition, like depression or ADHD, the mental health professional treating your teen might also prescribe medication to address another mental health condition. Medications may help decrease aggression, and they may be used if there are other symptoms or disorders, such as impulsivity or difficulty paying attention.

It is known that children are at greater risk when exposed to other types of violence and criminal behaviors, when they are exposed to abuse or rough or inconsistent parenting, or when their parents have mental health conditions, such as substance use disorder-external icon, depression-external icon, or attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Children and adolescents who display delinquent and violent behaviors display distinct cognitive and psychological profiles compared to children who experience other mental health problems and control groups.

Research has shown that the numbers of children with youth-onset conduct disorders are higher than for children who are children-onset, suggesting that youth-onset conduct disorders are a hyperbole to developmentally appropriate behaviors that are usually seen during adolescence, such as rebelling against authority figures and rejecting traditional values. Substance use is likely to further decrease impulse control and increase contact with deviant peers. Intermittent explosive disorder, which involves sudden, unprovoked violent episodes, may only be properly diagnosed when the behavior does not fit the criteria for a disordered conduct disorder. Because many individual signs, such as norm-breaking and aggression, may fall within the normal range of childish behaviors, many individual signs must be shown to extremes for them to be considered behavior disorders.

Many children with a conduct disorder may also have co-occurring conditions, such as mood disorders, anxiety, post-traumatic stress, substance abuse, ADHD, learning disabilities, or mental disorders, that may also be treated. In cases in which their behavior problems are severe and the child is unable to finish therapy, juveniles with a conduct disorder can develop into adults with problems in relationships, difficulties holding down jobs, regular infractions, and substance abuse.

This pattern of behavior should prompt clinicians to ask about recent conflicts or parental separations, geographical moves, or changes in school. Among children aged 10-14 years, a number of health-related behaviors are red flags for conduct disorder. Health is important for all children, and it may be particularly important for children who have behavioral or conduct problems. Oppositional Defiant Disorder is a behavioral condition involving patterns of angry or anxious moods, argumentativeness and defiance, and vindictiveness.

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