What's the Matter with Kids Today?

Disrespectful children and adolescents, normal adolescent behavior/development, lousy parenting, criminal behavior, or mental illness? It is usually a law enforcement officer to make that initial assessment.

However; studies have also shown that approximately 30% of children who were diagnosed with ODD will go on to develop a conduct disorder.

What is a Conduct Disorder?

In many ways, conduct disorder is simply a more severe and aggressive form of ODD. The basic features of a conduct disorder (CD) are a persistent pattern of behaviors which violates the social rules and rights of others.

The common thread that separates conduct disorder and oppositional defiant disorder are safety concerns. If a child has CD there are safety concerns. Children with ODD are an annoyance, but not particularly dangerous. Children with CD represent a real threat to people, animals, the community, school, and possessions. Physical aggression is a hallmark of CD; as is destruction of property. Additionally, the child frequently feels no remorse for his/her deeds. Conduct disorders often leads to an adult antisocial personality disorder and the associated criminal behaviors. It can be considered the larval form for the psychopath.

Children or adolescents with conduct disorder will demonstrate some of the following behaviors:

Aggression to people and animals

  • bullying, threatening or intimidating others
  • initiating physical fights
  • use of a potentially lethal weapon (e.g. a bat, brick, broken bottle, knife or gun)
  • physical cruelty to people or animals
  • aggravated assault
  • forcing sexual activity on unwilling partner

Destruction of Property

  • deliberately sets fires with the intention to cause damage
  • deliberately destroys other's property

Deceitfulness, lying, or stealing

  • breaking and entering residences, businesses, vehicles.
  • chronic lying to obtain goods, or favors or to avoid obligations
  • shoplifting

Serious violations of rules

  • staying out all night despite parental objections
  • runaway behavior
  • truancy from school

It is more common for males with a conduct disorder to continue with problems into adulthood than females. However, females with a conduct disorder often face more major consequences related to their behaviors. Girls with CD abuse substances 6X more, cigarettes 8X more, have poorer health, are twice as likely to contract sexually transmitted diseases, have twice the number of sexual partners, and are 3X more likely to become pregnant than their non CD peers.

Kids with CD should obtain a comprehensive psychosocial evaluation. Many children with a conduct disorder may have treatable coexisting conditions such as mood disorders, anxiety, PTSD, substance abuse, ADHD, learning problems, or thought disorders. The earlier treatment is initiated, the better their response to the treatment. However, a lot of the adolescents with CD end up in custody for their criminal behaviors.

Tips for Law Enforcement Officers

You will undoubtedly be involved with a call related to a problematic child. Sometimes the kid is really out of control; sometimes the parents forget that it is their job to raise their children. The reality is that you can not fix their problems in fifteen minutes when it took them fifteen years to create this situation. Some parents will want you to take the child away, find someone to deal with him/her, and then have the child return as a perfect angel. Let's face, it that is not going to happen!

In most of these family disturbance calls there has been no crime, and the child doesn't represent a danger to self or others so there is little you can do other than mediate and give referrals. Speak to the kid separately and remind him that until he is eighteen his parents are in control. The harder part is talking to the parents. Explain why you can not simply remove the child from the home, despite their demands. Reinforce that the child is not possessed, criminal, or acutely mentally ill. Remind them that they are as much of the problem as the child. Parents can't start setting limits and consequences when a kid starts high school; that should have been done 13 years ago. Make the help appropriate referrals for both the child and parents. There are effective local programs to provide parenting skills and help family members negotiate expectations and rules. Try to role model calmness, active listening, and assertiveness for the child and the parents. If you suspect possible child abuse or neglect contact CPS and report your concerns.

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