Although you might not have heard it referred to by its proper name, Conduct Disorder is something you have likely seen examples of in popular culture and, perhaps, even among your child’s group of friends. Perhaps your own child or teenager shows signs of Conduct Disorder.
In order to help you gain a clearer perspective on why your child might be profoundly struggling with serious symptoms of Conduct Disorder, we need to look at what might be causing it and how best to treat these often difficult-to-manage symptoms.
What Is Conduct Disorder?
Conduct Disorder (CD) is best defined as a re-occurrence of a disruptive behavioral pattern found in children and young adults in which rules or the rights of others are repetitiously violated. These behavioral patterns can be witnessed in school, at home, in or in public. They can be detrimental to the development of a young person’s academics, social skills, and family life.
The diagnosis of CD is more prevalent in boys than in girls, and it tends to onset early in life. Children under the age of 10 have been diagnosed with CD, as have those in their teens. Of course, many children and teens experience behavioral issues. But that does not necessarily qualify them as being diagnosable with CD.
Symptoms of Conduct Disorder
In order to be diagnosed with CD, a child or teenager must demonstrate a repetitive behavior pattern in which they disregard the rights and well-being of others as well as rules or authority. Within the previous 12-month period, they must have experienced at least three of the following criteria. These include one of the criteria having occurred within the last six months:
- Frequently bullies, threatens, or intimidates others;
- Frequently starts fights;
- Used a weapon to cause physical harm or damage;
- Physically been cruel to people;
- Physically been cruel to animals;
- Stolen during a confrontation;
- Forced someone to participate in sexual activity;
- Set fire with the intent to cause serious damage;
- Intentionally damaged property (aside from setting a fire);
- Broken into someone else’s property;
- Often lies to obtain favors, goods, or avoid obligations;
- Has stolen without confronting a victim (including shoplifting);
- Stays out late despite curfew before age 13;
- Has run away from home overnight two or more times while living with parent or guardian or once without returning home for an extended period of time;
- Is truant at school before age 13.
Additionally, these behavioral disturbances must cause a disruption in occupational, social, and/or academic functioning. If the individual is over the age of 18, the criteria for antisocial personality disorder are not met.
Causes of Conduct Disorder
There is no known root cause of CD. But research indicates that there is likely a combination of genetic, biological, social, environmental, and psychological factors that all play a role in the onset of CD in children and teens.
- Many of those diagnosed with CD have family histories of mental illnesses (especially anxiety, untreated depression, other mood disorders, personality disorders, and substance abuse disorders).
- Children and teens with CD tend to have high comorbidities of attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADD), depression, anxiety, and learning disorders.
- Additionally, children who have difficult home lives, have experienced any sort of trauma, or who are not receiving consistent support and discipline by both parents tend to be diagnosable with CD.
Other Issues Related to Conduct Disorder
Children whose families are of low socioeconomic status tend to experience many of the symptoms common to CD. Also, they tend to share in multiple factors that put them at risk. These children tend to be less accepted by their peers and might be subjected to bullying, which might prompt retaliation in the form of CD symptoms.
Moreover, experts tend to believe that children and teens with CD lack the ability to feel remorse or guilt and experience cognitive processing deficits.
Conduct Disorder Treatment Options
Conduct Disorder generally consists of a combination of age-appropriate psychotherapy and medications. In psychotherapy, therapists work with children and young adults to channel their anger and other disruptive emotions into more positive and constructive means of self-expression. In Behavioral and Cognitive Behavioral Therapies, the goal is to work closely with the child’s parent in order to reduce blame between parent and child and to help the parent understand how to better supervise and address their child’s behaviors.
A therapist will also work with a child or teen to help them sort through their feelings as well as addressing their behavior patterns. In Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), a therapist will work with both the child and parent to address and alter their faulty beliefs and assumptions. Children are more likely to misbehave (and continue misbehaving) when they hold an exaggerated or misconceived understanding of a situation. So dismantling these beliefs is a major goal in CBT for children and teens with CD.
As far as medications go for treating CD, pharmacological treatment options include:
- Stimulants (Ritalin and Dexedrine);
- Antidepressants (Wellbutrin and Prozac);
- Anticonvulsants (Dilantin, Tegretol, and Depakene);
Again, specialists generally combine pharmacological therapy, as it gets the best results with counseling therapy.
Conduct Disorder in Popular Culture
Over the years, there have been several notable pop culture depictions of Conduct Disorder. One of the most memorable examples is from 1993’s hit film, The Good Son. In this film, a young boy named Henry (played by Macaulay Culkin) deliberately causes harm to others. He even plots to kill his sister Connie.
He also threatens his cousin and attempts to kill his mother by pushing her over a cliff. Indeed, this movie represents some very extreme behaviors. But it is one of the most well-known portrayals of CD in pop culture.
In real life, children and teens with CD won’t meet the same sad fate Henry does in The Good Son. Combinations of CBT and medications have been effective in helping many young people with CD. They also aided their families in navigating the difficult waters of Conduct Disorder.
To Peace & Harmony
Each child is different and has unique circumstances that contribute to their CD. But you can successfully address these issues.
Of course, this happens when a child is able to work with their parent(s) and a therapist to address their behavioral and emotional issues.
The images are from depositphotos.com.