Conduct Disorder Impacts Up to 16% of Our Boys. Here’s What You Need to Know

He just won’t listen. He doesn’t care. He’s angry all the time. Typical tween/teen behaviour … or could it be something more. Most children will turn into moody little so-and-sos at some stage in their life. They may become rude, defiant, disruptive and, simply put, little turds. According to psychologist and Talk Less, Listen More author, Michael Hawtonone in five parents admit to having trouble with behaviour in one of their children at any given time.

In most instances, a child’s ‘naughtiness’ is nothing to be concerned about. However, if you are finding that your child’s behaviour is getting out of control, that they are breaking the law or causing you to fear for their safety (and the safety of others) it could be something more.

There are a few different behaviour disorders we’ve discussed in the past. Oppositional Defiant Disorder (ODD) as well as Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). But we’ve never touched on conduct disorder, something that impacts approximately 6 to 16% of boys and 2 to 9% of girls. 

Conduct Disorder (CD) is a behavioural problem in children and adolescents which involves constant defiance, hostility, temper, aggression and law-breaking tendencies. CD shares a lot of similarities with ODD and ADHD and many children will be diagnosed with all three.

In general, children tend to be diagnosed with conduct disorder between the ages of 10 and 16 but CD isn’t something you can self-diagnose. You will need to see a professional who will make their assessment based on observation and interviews with various people in the child’s life.

Bullying, boy fist
Is your child’s behaviour becoming too much? Photo: Bigstock

What does conduct disorder look like: 

According to Better Health, a child with CD may:

  • Show defiance on a regular basis: Refuse to obey parents and authority figures
  • Avoid school and social activities: May also have a tendency to run away from home
  • Show aggression. This may include aggression towards animals and people, including bullying, physical or sexual abuse
  • Have trouble in school and possibly learning difficulties
  • Use drugs. This may include tobacco, alcohol and vapes
  • Show a lack of empathy and remorse
  • Show spiteful and vengeful behaviour
  • Experience low self-esteem and possible suicidal tendencies
  • Have a tendency to hang out in gangs
  • Be keen to start physical fights and use weapons
  • Display law-breaking behaviour. This may include deliberately lighting fires, breaking into homes, shoplifting and vandalism.

It’s important to remember that just because your child doesn’t listen to you, acts out or hangs out with a group of people doesn’t mean they have CD. However, if you are concerned that your child is acting out and displays some (or all) of the above, then it’s important to speak to a GP who can arrange the next step.

It is also really important to remember that tweens and teens have a lot going on in their heads. This article provides a better understanding of why teens and tweens may be acting out. Spoiler alert: it’s not always their fault!

Managing this type of behaviour

If your child does have a conduct disorder, it can make parenting even harder. It’s understandably frustrating, overwhelming and heartbreaking, but please remember that there are treatment options available.

The tricky part with children who do have conduct disorder is getting them to agree to be treated. After all, most children with conduct disorder have trouble trusting any sort of authority figure, including a psychologist or psychiatrist.

Treatment may include things like behaviour therapy or cognitive behavioural therapy, anger management or social skills training or family therapy. Medication may also be needed.

There are a few ways you can try and dissuade this behaviour too.

  • First of all, don’t blame yourself – you’re doing your best.
  • Set limits and punishments. More importantly, follow through with the consequences for unacceptable behaviour.
  • Sort out a routine. Make sure your child or teen has responsibilities they must do.
  • Monitor your child’s whereabouts. If they are out of control, you may need to limit them from leaving the house.
  • Lead by example.
  • Stay in their corner. Even if they are doing ALL the wrong things. Don’t deny they are doing it, but don’t give up on them either. Remind yourself (and them) of the good in them.

When your child is acting out, breaking the law and, quite frankly, doing things that scare you, it’s incredibly distressing. Most parents don’t want to share that this is happening to their family and that’s completely okay.

Please remember that behavioural disorders like conduct disorder, ODD and ADHD, are not yours or your child’s fault.

If you are feeling like this may be something your child could have, speak to your doctor. They can refer you to a specialised service and get you and your child on the right path.

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Avatar of Jenna Galley

Born and raised in Canada, Jenna now lives in Far North Queensland with her tribe. When the mum-of-three is not writing, you can find her floating in the pool, watching princess movies, frolicking on the beach, bouncing her baby to sleep or nagging her older kids to put on their pants.

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