In Syndromes & Disorders

The Makings of Conduct Disorder


A conduct disorder is any behavior that is repeated on the part of the child exhibiting the behaviors, and includes any behaviors in the range of what are considered to be “antisocial type behaviors in childhood or adolescence.”

WebMD refers to conduct disorders as any disorder which may have an emotional or psychological basis. However, schools make no such distinction when they refer to conduct disorders. In other words, someone may have a conduct disorder with or without the emotional or psychological component or symptoms.

Further, if we look at the DSM (The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders), we see that the APA (American Psychological Association) does not even consider behavioral disorders (which are just another word for conduct disorders outside of the school setting), as a true mental disorder. This means that children who exhibit conduct disorder symptoms may be more responsible for their unlawful actions than those who have an emotional disturbance underlying their actions. Whether or not a particular child has an underlying psychological problem can only be determined by extensive testing and evaluation of the child based on referrals from school personnel or parents.

Conduct disorders are an issue which schools have always dealt with because of their applications to school discipline problems in the school setting. Conduct disorders can include a wide range of behavioral problems, including but not limited to:

  • Disobedience of rules and regulations
  • Disrespect for authority
  • Acting out or clowning behaviors
  • Talking excessively or not paying attention in class
  • Tardiness or excessive absences
  • Failure to do or turn in assignments
  • Manipulative behaviors or bullying

|SEE ALSO: An Overview of Post Traumatic Disorder|

Conduct Disorder Issues In School

Schools are the most frequent setting in which “conduct orders” occur because school is one of the most structured and demanding environments in which children work and play. Many parents are perplexed by the number of conduct referrals or conferences they have to attend about their child at school, when they thought their child was well-behaved at home. But schools have higher expectations for conformity and responsibility than the home environment and often kids find themselves getting into trouble more frequently at school than at home due to these exacting standards.

Applications To Bullying

Where conduct disorders cross over into bullying is in those behaviors exhibited by kids which create a feeling of fear or oppression on others, Manipulative behaviors or physical aggression, name-calling, and harassment all create such a feeling of helplessness among the victims that something must be done to help them. As a result of coming to the rescue of the bullied child, it also follows that help should also be sought for the bully, even if the bully does not want help at the time of the infraction.

Call A Spade A Spade

Sometimes the term conduct disorders becomes a catch-all phrase for any misbehavior and almost becomes petty to the casual listener. But the issue of bullying is one which must not be taken lightly and we need to change our terminology somewhat so that we call bullying what it is.

When Bullying Turns Criminal

Not all bullying acts are criminal acts, but some are. Some of the acts of bullying are criminal in and of themselves, such as threatening or assault, while others have to do more with where the bullying act occurred.

The Importance Of Location

Some acts of bullying become criminal in nature due to their location. For example, a child who follows another around on the playground bothering other children may be called bullying at school but if the child then follows the other child home exhibiting those same behaviors, harassing them and coercing them or intimidating them, could be accused of stalking or criminal mischief. So sometimes it is where the incident occurred, rather than the nature of the incident itself that determines the level of legal action that can be taken.

Legal Implications

In addition to possible criminal charges which could be filed against severe bullies, individuals can file civil actions in a court of law for bullying which involves certain behaviors which are particularly harmful or degrading to the victim. It is important that children, parents, schools, and communities understand that bullying does not always stop at the school door and that further ramifications can result from such actions, even if the child is determined to have a “conduct disorder.”

Civil Actions

It might surprise some to know also that some actions of bullying can be grounds for a civil action on the part of the parents of the bullied child, and they may seek monetary compensation for the actions of the perpetrator. Such behaviors which could have legal action (non-criminal) brought against them include:

  • Harassment
  • Terroristic threatening (could be criminal also)
  • Stalking
  • Character defamation (slander, libel, etc.)
  • Discrimination
  • and other actions which are actionable by the civil courts

Remember that schools usually handle bullying situations when they occur on the school grounds, but once these situations leave campus, they become issues of the law or civil actions, which can be instigated by individuals to seek monetary damages.

In addition, individuals or families of victims of bullying may also seek monetary compensation for:

  • Pain and suffering (mental anguish caused by the bullying)
  • Loss of wages due to online defamation of character, etc.
  • Punitive damages
  • and other areas which the court deems the bully liable for

How To Identify A Conduct Disorder In Children

If you think your child may have a conduct disorder of any kind, especially those directly related to bullying, it is important that you act fast. Contact your school counselor or teacher at school and ask for a meeting. You want to get your child the help he needs early in the game, so that he will not get into more serious trouble later in bullying or other incidents involving other children.

Conduct Disorder Symptoms

Here is a list of conduct disorder symptoms and major categories which may prove effective in helping you to identify whether your child has a conduct disorder.

Aggressive Symptoms

  • Bullies, threatens, or intimidates others
  • Initiates physical fights
  • Use or fascination with weapons
  • Cruelty to animals
  • Sexual misconduct

Destruction Of Property

  • Pyromania (fire setting)
  • Deliberate destruction of the property of others
  • Lack of respect for others’ possessions or property

Deceitfulness, Lying, or Stealing

  • Breaking into someone’s home without permission
  • Theft of property
  • Petty theft of small or large items
  • Lies or manipulates others to get what they want
  • Tendency to try to get out of responsibilities or work

Serious Violation Of Rules

  • Lack of respect for authority or rules (including school or home-related)
  • Runs away from home
  • Truant from school or absent excessively

As you can see, these traits of a conduct disorder (source: American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry), reflect our initial list of conduct disorders we see in schools at the beginning of this article. But they go into more specifics on the symptoms involved which you should be aware of to see if your child could have tendencies toward these problems.

The traits which affect bullying most involve aggressive behaviors, but they can sometimes also cross over into the other categories, such as violation of rules, stealing (as in when a bully takes possessions of their victim, etc.), and other areas.

Early Detection Is The Key

Just as is true in the medical field regarding certain medical conditions, the same is true of conduct disorders: the sooner you can identify the problem, the sooner the person can get the help them need to deal with their problem. We need to start seeing both the victim of bullying and the bully as in need of services and the sooner we can do this, the sooner everyone will be able to cope.

Resources For Parents And Communities

One of the most important things to do when dealing with bullying involving conduct disorder issues is to communicate with parents of kids with conduct disorder symptoms and do the proper evaluations and tests to determine the specific problems of the kids involved. It is always best to prevent a problem, rather than have to deal with the issues later on. Proper testing and evaluation at the onset is the best thing we can do to hit these problems head on.

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