Behavioral problems that take hold in the developmental years of your child’s life can indicate behaviors they may engage in later in life. If your child begins acting out at home, with friends or in school during pre-teen and teenage years, it could signal more serious behavioral problems on the horizon.
How parents respond to these behaviors early on can also have an effect on their child’s behaviors later in life. If evidence of a developing behavioral problem is ignored, the risk is that it could grow into a worsened or compounded problem.
It is important for parents to respond to behavioral problems in a positive way, and to nurture growth and maturity in their children.
Behavior Disorders in Children and Youth
What constitutes a behavioral disorder in a child? All children act out from time to time, but where is the line between normal aggressive or defiant behavior and a serious behavioral issue? First, we must look at the types of behavioral problems in children.
Conduct disorders are characterized by a child showing defiant characteristics, refusing to follow rules, or refusing to behave in socially acceptable ways. These behavior disorders generally become known in adolescence (Adolescent Onset Conduct Disorders), or before the age of 10 (Childhood Onset Conduct Disorders). Children with conduct disorders may appear to be emotionless, disconnected from their emotions, or show disregard for the feelings and emotions of others.
Possible Signs of Conduct Disorders in Children, Teens, and Young Adults:
- Aggressive behaviors, attitudes, and actions.
- Showing an affinity for violence, weapons, and extreme or violent content (movies, games, TV, music, etc.).
- Deceitful behaviors such as lying, stretching the truth, making up stories to hurt or scare others, etc.
- Bullying, intimidating others, toying with other people’s emotions, teasing, etc.
- Stealing, forgery (cheating on tests, games, or in competitions)
- Persistent violation of rules, skipping school, running away from home, etc.
- Hurting others, hurting animals, quick to use violent methods when frustrated.
Conduct disorders are the most serious concern of the behavioral disorders found in children, teens, and young adults. Teens and children with conduct disorders also have the highest risk of developing substance abuse and addiction issues later in life, and are most likely to experiment with drugs and alcohol at young ages.
Oppositional Defiant Disorder
Whereas children with conduct disorders show more extreme behavioral problems – such as violent outbursts, and more sinister acts and behaviors – children with Oppositional Defiant Disorder (ODD) are often more restrained and show a more intellectual opposition to others, particularly those that they see as authority figures.
Parents and teachers usually see children and teens with ODD as “good kids,” who show mostly wholesome and loving behaviors, but are defiant toward rules they don’t agree with. ODD children also may act out when they feel others are treating them subordinately, and they may engage in disruptive behavior in protest against whatever they feel to be “unfair.”
Kids with ODD really are good kids, and for the most part there is nothing wrong with them. They do, however, need a little more guidance on how to control their thoughts, feelings, emotions and behaviors.
Kids and teens with ODD unfortunately are at higher risk of substance abuse, and seem to almost have a predisposition for trouble. These are the types of kids who often end up in bad situations due hanging out with the wrong crowd, following the behaviors of their friends, or getting caught up in risky situations.
Children with ODD are often the most in-need of early intervention, because the way they view authority and opposing figures often causes bad judgment and a lot of mistakes. These mistakes could be frivolous or may seem minor in their younger years, but can easily progress into more dangerous behaviors later in life.
Attention Deficit Disorders
Some kids, teens and young adults are victims of circumstance, when it comes to their perceived behavioral problems. For some kids, there are underlying problems which are causing their behavioral problems.
Of the underlying conditions that can cause behavioral problems with risk of substance abuse and addiction, ADD/ADHD is one of the more serious conditions. This is due to the fact that attention deficit disorders are most commonly treated with medications. Even though medications like Adderall and Ritalin can be life-savers in some cases, not every child responds well to medication therapy.
ADD/ADHD medications can also pose a number of problems when it comes to substance abuse behaviors in teens and young adults. These medications themselves are often a child’s first experience with substance abuse, where they learn that they can alter their mood and behaviors with a drug. While some may become dependent on ADD medications after long term use, there is also a high rate of young men and women who begin experimenting with other drugs (prescription and illicit) after starting medication therapy.
Autism Spectrum Disorder
Another underlying problem which can cause behavioral problems, ASD (Autism Spectrum Disorder, Asperger’s Syndrome) is a developmental disorder that often begins showing during childhood developmental years. Children with ASD often seem “in their own world,” focus and concentrate on ordering things obsessively, and may have difficulty communicating.
Whereas the signs and symptoms of autism are more pronounced and easier to diagnose, ASD is not as easy to diagnose, and what parents may believe to be a behavioral problem could be a child’s frustration with the symptoms of ASD.
The dangers of undiagnosed, or improperly treated Autism Spectrum Disorder are great. Children with ASD that do not get the care they need can become so frustrated, angry or sad that they can engage in more risky behaviors like substance abuse. Those with ASD that are lacking in treatment and care have considerably higher rates of both suicide and addiction.
Children, teens, and young adults can develop anxiety disorders just like adults. Parents may think of anxiety disorders as mental health issues that develop in the late 20s to 30s, and it is true that the symptoms intensify at these ages. However, anxiety disorders usually first take hold in the teenage years – when children are exposed to more pressing social interactions.
What parents perceive as serious behavioral problems may be a reaction to social pressures teens are feeling at the time, pressures they are already having a hard time processing without constant or increasing anxiety.
Twenty percent of adults in the United States with an anxiety disorder also have a substance abuse problem. Self-medication is all too common a practice in those with anxiety disorders, and teens especially are at risk.
Experimenting with drugs or alcohol, smoking, withdrawing from social interactions – all of these behaviors are common in teen anxiety sufferers, and can increase the overall risk for worsening behavioral and substance abuse issues. For these kids, it is important to intervene early and show them that what they are feeling due to a chemical imbalance.
Teens with anxiety disorders need to be shown that – with treatment – they can find relief from their negative thoughts and feelings. Without intervention and treatment, however, teenagers with anxiety disorders may feel hopeless and engage in increasingly risky behaviors.
Major Depressive Disorder
Teens with depression need help and early intervention. One-third of adults with a major depressive disorder also engage in substance abuse. The link between substance abuse and depression is quite clear, and teens are facing the same risk.
Early intervention for teen depression can not only prevent substance abuse and addiction issues later in life, but helping get a teen’s depression under control can offer a greater potential for being happy later in life. Teenage years are key in the development of a young adult, and making the right decisions for your son or daughter in this time frame can bring them benefits that they will thank you for when they are older.
Did you know that 57 percent of teens with adolescent-onset bipolar disorder also suffer from ADHD? Bipolar disorder is a manic disorder that features high highs and low lows. Bipolar disorder is more prevalent in teens and young adults than most parents assume it is. However, many teenagers can have bouts of mania and bipolar disorder throughout teen years, but have it go away completely in adult life. The key – again – is early intervention and treatment.
When bipolar disorders go undiagnosed in teens, the risk for exacerbating the issue increases immensely. Worse, teenagers with undiagnosed bipolar disorder often engage in substance abuse, and are at higher risk of becoming addicted to drugs and/or alcohol they use to try and stabilize their moods.
Having a learning disorder does not mean your child is any less intelligent or has less potential than any other child; it simply means that they learn in a different way, and often-times more slowly. The frustration a child can go through if they are not in a learning environment that supports their condition, is the biggest risk to a child with a learning disorder.
Frustration, anger, sadness, feelings of hopelessness, lack of self-esteem – all of these negative feelings don’t come from a learning disorder itself, but from the child not receiving the attention they need. Frustrated children will act out, become aggressive, or defiant in response to a situation that they don’t understand how to make better. In these cases, the parents need to intervene and offer help.
Teens with a learning disorder, who receive specialize care in education and day-to-day social interactions are not only shown to perform better in schoolwork, engage in more positive social interactions with peers and teachers, and have less risk of future behavioral and substance abuse issues.
Do I Need a Teen Intervention for My Son or Daughter’s Behavioral Health Issues?
The biggest myth about interventions – whether it be an intervention for substance abuse or behavioral problems, for adults or children – is that you have to wait for rock bottom before performing an intervention. Intervention is all about prevention – preventing a problem from getting worse. So it doesn’t really make sense to wait until the problem is at its worst before intervening. By that time, you are intervening to try to save what is left of an already destroyed life.
Families should do interventions at the earliest stages of a problem, to bring the issue right out in the open, to recognize it, and to begin putting together a plan to reverse that problem.
Won’t Behavioral Health Interventions Shame or Hurt My Son/Daughter?
Shame? Shame is a big part of recovery from substance abuse, mental health and behavioral issues, but the shame felt is never due to a perceived negative connotation with the intervention itself. Rather, your son or daughter may feel shameful for their past actions, or regret their behaviors and actions before the recovery process has started.
At Intervention Helpline, we have decades of experience between our certified professional interventionists. We have performed thousands of interventions and have never experienced a case where the intervention caused any sort of negative experience that wasn’t already at risk of happening.
Making a big decision that could impact the health and well-being of your child for years to come will be difficult. But the choice to intervene and seek a solution to the problem is a positive choice, opposed to inactivity – which can only allow the problem to persist and ultimately expose your child to more harm and risk.
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