Every child or adolescent shows some unusual behavior or negative reactions occasionally or periodically under emotional stress or by way of protest. Though these behaviors may appear odd or bothersome, they may not be harmful to anybody in most instances. However, if such behavior recurs often or increases in severity causing distress to the child and others around him or her, it -is time to sit up and consider whether the child needs assessment and treatment from doctors or mental health professionals. In a lot of cases, the issue comes to light first time when a legal problem has occured due to antisocial behavior. It may be too late for modification if not handled early enough. As the beliavior becomes ‘set’ and the adolescent grows away from the family.

Does your child show any of the following unusual behaviors?

  • Emotional outbursts/temper tantrums
  • Using abusing language
  • Hostile, defiant aggressive behavior towards others
  • Stealing
  • Lying consistently
  • Running away from home
  • Manipulative tendencies
  • Enjoys inflicting pain on others (including animals)
  • Destroying public or private property
  • Petty thefts
  • Associating with criminal gangs, gang fights
  • Smoking, drinking or taking drugs
  • Sexual misbehaviors/promiscuity

These are some of the attitudes and behaviors that characterize a conduct disorder in a younger child and an anti social or delinquent behavior in adolescence. These behaviors may be the fore runner of criminal behavior in adulthood. These children may be a source of problem to the family and the society.

What Causes children to turn anti social?

Several psychosocial factors are found to be strongly associated with conduct disturbance which increases the risk of a child developing antisocial behaviors. These are:-

  • Poor, inadequte or wrong role modelling by parents/significant others.
  • Breakdown of social and value systems specially within the family.
  • Lack of parental involvement in discipline and upbringing
  • Severe marital discord among parents
  • Absence of a parent from home for long period, especially father
  • Antisocial or criminal behavior in a parent or family member
  • Alcoholism or drug abuse in parents
  • Difficult adjustment to school set up
  • Poor peer interaction
  • Association with neighborhood gangs
  • Temperamentally – overactive, distractible, impulsive, emotional
  • Uprooted, migrant family
  • Living in slums in cities
  • Poverty and unemployment in the family

Conduct disorder or delinquency thus appear to be due to a complex interplay of factors in the child, the family and the society.

How can you deal with a child who shows signs of conduct disorder?

There is no point in blaming or resorting to severe punishment. They need a totally different way of being dealt with.

  • Proper role modelling by parents and significant others including a comprehensive value system.
  • Parents can be guided by mental health professionals to change their own patterns of dealing with the child which are often faulty.
  • The child can be separated from its pathological family or social environment and instead be placed in healthy environment and proper care.
  • Consistently disciplined, yet sympathetic approach in changing the behaviour of the child to conform to social norms and code of conduct.
  • Encourage the child to develop normal healthy social interactions, respond to needs of others and live in harmony, with others.
  • Placement of the child in a special institution run by the government, NGO’s or private bodies for remediation.
  • Medication for underlying mental pathology, if any, by a mental health professional.
  • The society also needs to look at the value systems being imparted to the youth.
  • The media needs to play a big role including not portraying or glamorizing violence and crime.

Ultimately these children are our own collective responsibility and require the untiring efforts of parents, teachers, mental health professionals (psychologist, social workers), remedial institutions, law enforcing authorities and the government to ensure that these children grow up to be normal, socially responsible adults.