Preventing Anti-Social Behaviour in Adolescents

Conduct Disorder is one of a number of disruptive behaviour disorders. It is characterized by aggressive or cruel treatment towards people and animals, destruction of property, deceitfulness or theft, and serious violation of rules (e.g., running away from home, staying out all night despite parental prohibitions, and school truancy before age 13). New research to be published in the October issue of the Journal of Abnormal Psychology indicates that there are several factors that can steer troubled conduct disordered children away from becoming teenage offenders. This research is particularly relevant as conduct disorder in children is typically divided into early or childhood onset versus adolescent onset. Childhood on-set is considered to be a more serious on-going concern whereas adolescent onset, while distressing, has a better prognosis. That is, adolescence that begin acting in anti-social ways, and have no history of this type of behaviour, don't typically persist in it.

Researchers looked at 310 boys from the longitudinal Pittsburgh Youth Study who started offending prior to age 12. What they found was that early onset kids are not all destined to live life through the prism of the criminal justice system. Approximately 20% of these early onset troubled kids were able to stop the trajectory their life was headed for and desist from engaging in anti-social behaviours. Three main factors accounted for this. First, coming from a small family was a protective factor. The benefit of this is not clear, however it may be explained by the fact that parental supervision may be more available in small families. This would coincide with the second protective factor which is family involvement. Kids whose parents are more involved in their lives tend to have a better outcome even though their childhoods have been marked by disruptive behaviours. The last factor highlighted by the researchers was interaction with pro-social peers.

What is the lesson for parents with children who experience behavioural disturbance? Take the time to inform yourself on proper parenting techniques and spend more time with your children. The increased care and supervision has a positive effect on their future. In addition, while parents do not fully control the peer groups that their kids become involved with, they can have an influence. Enrolling your kids in co-curricular activities as Dr. Brian and I have discussed before, not only provides them an opportunity to learn new skills and build self-confidence, it also provides them with new opportunities to develop more pro-social friendships.

You can read more about this study here.

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Note: Posts on Family Anatomy are for education only. If you need to talk to someone about family or mental health issues, you can get a referral from your family doctor.