April fears the dawning of her 11-year-old daughter's teen years more than most parents. The Colorado mom has worked to curb her child's violent temper since the girl was just 3 years old.
"She is better than she used to be," says April, who remembers when her daughter regularly threw plates of food, punched relatives' pets, and shouted curse words in violent temper tantrums. "But she still has outbreaks. It has been an active, ongoing process for her to master her anger." In the not-so-distant future, April worries that social and academic pressures will trigger more serious emotional outbursts.
The roots of violent and aggressive behavior can often be traced back many years.
Many children with these kind of traits have a condition known as
, which can begin in early childhood or during adolescence and is associated in some children with disorders, such as
attention deficit hyperactivity disorder
oppositional defiant disorder
Factors that may put youth at risk for conduct disorder include: Abuse of neglect (most influential risk factor)Sexual abusePoor family functioningFamilial substance abuseFamily history of psychiatric illness
Certain factors increase a young person's risk of violent behavior, including: History of violenceSubstance abuseAssociation with gang members or others with disciplinary problemsDisciplinary and/or attendance problems in school, low gradesCommunity poverty
This is not a complete list of risk factors. There are many other possible factors that contribute to youth violence. Also, having one of the above factors does not necessarily mean your child will engage in violent behavior.
Some strategies may be helpful in preventing violence before starts. These include: Family-based programs that aim to improve family relationsTeaching children how to solve social problems without violenceMentoring programs that pair teens with adults who can serve as role modelsCommunity-based programs that foster a child's full potential
Some studies have shown that early intervention programs can make a difference for children who show early signs of disruptive behavior. These studies found that disruptive boys who took part in a preventive intervention program for two years beginning in kindergarten had higher rates of high school graduation and lower rates of criminal behavior after 15 years.
There are some things you can do beginning when your child is young to help them prepare for the teen years. The American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry recommends taking these steps: Make the home environment a safe and loving place where your child can expect honesty, trust, and respect and learn to treat others the same.Strive to create a relationship with your child that encourages open communication, especially when your child is upset.Allow your child to be independent and assertive in age-appropriate ways, such as allowing your preschooler to choose his own weather-appropriate clothing.Teach responsibility in caring for personal belongings, the belongings of others, and household chores.Teach and show your child the importance of setting limits.
Communicate openly with your child. If you think something might be wrong, ask your child. Don't ignore problems hoping they will go away. If you need help talking to your child or teen, don't be ashamed to ask for help. There may be problems you are not equipped to manage alone. Your child's doctor will be able to direct you to helpful resources.
Your teen may exhibit warning signs of emotional or social problems long before they actually participate in violent behavior. Teens with low self-esteem or family problems may also be more at-risk for self-destructive behavior like drug use. These warning signs could mean trouble for your teen: Agitated or restless behaviorChanges in weight (loss or gain)Drop in gradesDifficulty concentrating, feelings of sadnessLack of motivation, lack of interest in people and activitiesFatigue, low energyLow self-esteemProblems falling asleep
If you notice any of these signs in your teen , start an open discussion. If your teen consistently exhibits these signs, talk to their doctor. (These signs are also consistent with
if they last longer than 2 weeks)
Time and again, research on teen violence also cites the importance of children feeling connected—to home, to school, to friends, to family. Parents' influence can help, but professional help is often required bridge the gaps in your family dynamic.
(CBT) helps both you and your teen face issues and learn better ways to deal with them. CBT can be done individually and as a group.
Untreated issues in childhood continue through adulthoood. Keep in mind that counseling is confidential. If you don't want to talk to your teen's doctor, you can find a psychiatrist at the
American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry
Boisjoli R, Vitaro F, Lacourse E, Barker ED, Tremblay RE. Impact and clinical significance of a preventive intervention for disruptive boys: 15-year follow-up. Br J Psychiatry. 2007;191:415-419.
Conduct disorder. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: http://www.ebscohost.com/dynamed. Updated Ocotober 1, 2013. Accessed August 14, 2014.
Mental health and teens: watch for danger signs. American Academy of Pediatrics Healthy Children website. Available at: http://www.healthychildren.org/English/ages-stages/teen/pages/Mental-Health-and-Teens-Watch-for-Danger-Signs.aspx. Updated February 28, 2014. Accessed August 14, 2014.
Understanding your teen's emotional health. American Academy of Family Physicians Family Doctor website. Available at: http://familydoctor.org/familydoctor/en/teens/emotional-well-being/understanding-your-teenagers-emotional-health.html. Updated November 2010. Accessed August 14, 2014.
Youth violence. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website. Available at: http://www.cdc.gov/violenceprevention/youthviolence. Updated April 9, 2014. Accessed August 14, 2014.
Woolfenden SR, Williams K, Peat J. Family and parenting interventions in children and adolescents with conduct
disorder and delinquency aged 10-17.
Cochrane Database Syst Rev.
Last reviewed August 2014 by Michael Woods, MD
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.
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