Conduct Disorder

Children with Conduct Disorder, a more severe problem that Disruptive Mood Dysregulation or Oppositional Defiant Disorders, repeatedly violate the basic rights of others. (APA, 2013, 2012) Conduct disorder usually begins between age 7 and 15. As many as ten percent of children, three-quarters of them boys, may qualify for this diagnosis. (Mesh & Wolfe, 2010; Nock et al, 2006) This disorder includes at least 3 of the following: a repetitive and persistent pattern of bullying or threatening others; frequently provoking physical fights; using dangerous weapons; being physically cruel to people or animals; stealing; breaking into houses, apartments or cars; destroying property; setting fires, often within a group or gang; frequent lying;, staying out late beyond curfews; running away from home; skipping school; and beginning this conduct before the age of 13.

Individuals with a relatively mild conduct disorder often improve over time. However serious cases may continue well into adulthood, developing into Antisocial Personality Disorder or other psychological problems. (Mash & Wolfe, 2010) Research indicates the earlier the onset of the conduct disorder, the poorer the eventual outcome, and in most cases individuals who develop conduct disorder first display a pattern of Oppositional Defiant Disorder. (Lahey, 2008) More than one-third of children with conduct disorder also display Attention-Deficit/Hperactivity Disorder (ADHD), a disorder that often appears before the child begins attending school.

Overt Versus Covert Behaviors

When we look deeper we find several kinds of conduct disorder. These include:

  • The “overt-destructive” pattern in which individuals show openly confrontational and aggressive behavior;
  • The “overt-nondestructive” pattern showing openly offensive but non-confrontational behaviors, for example, frequent lying;
  • The “covert-destructive” pattern of secrete destructive behaviors, such as smashing rural mailboxes, breaking and entering, damaging or destroying property and setting fires to name a few;
  • And “covert-nondestructive” behaviors by individuals secretly committing nonaggressive acts such as skipping school. (McMahon & Frick, 2007, 2005)

It is important to separate out those individuals whose conduct is marked by particularly callous and unemotional behaviors. (APA, 2013)

Another pattern of aggression is found in some cases of conduct disorder termed “Relational Aggression” in which individuals are socially isolated and whose conduct displays slandering of others, spreading rumors and manipulating friendships. (Keehan et al, 2010) This is generally seen more commonly in girls.

Female Juvenile Deliquency Increasing

Individuals with severe conduct disorder are suspended from school, placed in foster homes, or incarcerated. (Weyandt et al, 2011) When children under the age of eighteen break the law, the legal system often labels them as juvenile delinquents. (Jiron, 2010) The majority of juvenile crimes are committed by boys, but in recent years the rates for crimes committed by girls have been increasing. Arrests of teenagers for serious crimes have more than tripled during the past twenty-five years. (U.S. Department of Justice, 2010, 2008)

Causes and Treatments

The causes of conduct disorder are many. Cases have been linked to genetic and biological factors, however many cases stem from socio-economic factors tied to poverty, troubled parent-child relationshps, abuse, inadequate parenting, family hostility and neglect, drug or alcohol abuse, violent peers and community violence. The list is long. Children seem more prone to this disorder when their parents themselves are antisocial, display aggressive anger, or have substance use, mood, or schizophrenic disorders. (Julien et al, 2011)

There are numerous treatment options offered depending on the age of the child and the severity of the disorder. With preschool and young children family intervention teaches parents to work with their child positively, setting appropriate limits, act consistently and to be fair in their disciplinary approaches. The best hope for dealing with conduct disorder lies in prevention programs that begin as early as possible and involve parents, teachers and the child.

This report is not a diagnosis. We hope this information can guide you toward improving your life.

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