Common Behavior Disorders in Children and Teens

According to the National Alliance on Mental Health (NAMI), 10 percent of youth ages 13 to 18 exhibit signs of a behavioral disorder. Each child or teen struggles with these disorders in different way and to a different degree. When the disorder become unmanageable, a therapeutic treatment program may be necessary. Here is a brief summary of possible disorders that can be addressed through a therapeutic treatment program.

Common Behavior Disorders in Children and Teens

  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Attention Disorders (includes ADD and ADHD)
  • Anger Issues (includes Oppositional Defiant Disorder)
  • Relationship Issues (includes Attachment Disorders)

Below you can find information and symptoms of each specific disorder.


According to the JAMA Psyschiatry, approximately 25 percent of adolescents have one major depressive episode before they reach adulthood. Depression is a mood disorder that involves intense feelings of sadness and pain.

Those who suffer from depression often have a chemical imbalance in their brain. Their mood-related chemicals like serotonin, norepinephrine and dopamine are lower than normal.

Identifying and treating behavioral disorders like depression is crucial because it can lead to other behavior disorders like substance abuse or self harm. Learning how to cope with depressed thoughts and feelings is possible through therapy and at times medication.

Signs of Depression

  • Prolonged periods of sadness or irritability
  • Decreased interest in favorite activities and people
  • Changes in appetite or weight
  • Fatigue or loss of energy
  • Irregular sleep
  • Inability to focus
  • Low self esteem

How do you know if it is just teenage “moodiness” or if it is a serious problem? If it interferes with your teen’s daily functioning, it might be depression. Those with a family history of depression are more likely to suffer from it as well. It can also be triggered by abuse or a traumatic life event.

Anxiety Disorders

Children and teens who have anxiety disorders experience an excessive amount of fearful and nervous thoughts. These thoughts and behaviors cause emotional and sometimes even physical distress. Those with anxiety do not identify danger and process stressful situations the way others do.

There are several types of anxiety, but one of the most common is generalized anxiety disorder (GAD). Signs of a possible anxiety disorder include:

  • Fatigue
  • Headaches
  • Restlessness
  • Sleep issues
  • Twitching
  • Nausea
  • Lightheaded
  • Difficulty relaxing
  • Negative thinking and anticipating the worst outcome for any situation
  • Excessive concern about small problems

Experiencing these symptoms for a prolonged period of time (several months) is an indicator that an official diagnosis should be sought out.

Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder

Obsessive compulsive disorder is an anxiety disorder. It is defined as experiencing uncontrollable a recurring thoughts (obsessions) and behaviors (compulsions) that are repeated over and over. People who are OCD are often scared of germs and need things to be in perfect order to feel safe and relaxed. Compulsions often manifest as excessive cleaning, organizing, checking the same thing repeatedly or counting.

Eating Disorders

Many individuals who suffer from anxiety disorders also struggle with eating disorder. According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, two-thirds of people who have eating disorders also struggle with anxiety disorders. Eating disorders can take the form of eating very little food, obsessing about food, overeating and purging food among other things.

Attention Disorders

Attention disorders, known as ADD and ADHD, are prevalent in children and teens in the US. The Center for Disease Control reports that 6.4 million children struggle with these specific behavioral disorders.

There are three types of ADHD:

Inattentive: This is when the child or teen has a hard time focusing and is easily distracted, but isn’t necessarily hyperactive or impulsive. Symptoms include:

  • Forgetfulness
  • Makes careless mistakes
  • Trouble staying on task
  • Inability to finish projects
  • Disorganized
  • Frequently loses important items

Hyperactive-Impulsive: When the child or teen is excessively hyperactive and impulsive. Symptoms include:

  • Talks excessively
  • Struggles with patience
  • Squirms and fidgets
  • Struggles with quiet or leisurely activities
  • Frequently interrupts others

Combination: Those exhibit signs of both attention deficit and hyperactive behaviors.

Anger Issues

Many anger issues that children and teens deal with are symptoms of a behavioral disorder called Oppositional Defiant Disorder. This disorder is defined as frequent violent behavior, argumentative tendencies and opposition to authority figures.

It is sometimes hard to diagnose this disorder because some children are naturally strong-willed and emotional but not truly suffering from ODD. This is why the opinion of a mental health professional is so important in discussing the contributing factors and possible treatment of this disorder.

According to the Mayo Clinic, signs your child may be dealing with this behavior disorder include:

  • Irritable mood
  • Argues with others in multiple settings: school, work, home
  • Loses temper easily
  • Often angry and resentful
  • Actively defies adults’ requests and rules
  • Blames others for their behavior
  • Spiteful or vindictive tendencies

Currently there are no specific medications recommended for this disorder but individual, family and experiential therapy can be successful in managing the ODD.

Relationship Disorders

Developing and maintaining strong family bonds and friendships is extremely important in the well being of adolescents. Certain behavioral disorders can stunt these relationships and put teens at risk for unhealthy emotional and physical behaviors.

Reactive Attachment Disorder is one of these disorders.

According to Mayo Clinic, children develop Reactive Attachment Disorder (RAD) when they do not form healthy attachments with their primary caregiver in adolescence. This disorder is commonly found in abused children or children growing up in foster care. RAD causes the individual to relate to others in abnormal or inappropriate ways: the child may be extremely detached and struggle developing relationships (inhibited RAD), or they may be overly clingy with friends and strangers (disinhibited RAD).

Signs of inhibited RAD include:

  • Withdrawl
  • Prolonged sadness or listlessness
  • Not seeking comfort and not responding to comfort
  • Watches others closely but does not engage

On the flip side, signs of disinhibited RAD include:

  • Indiscriminate sociability
  • Inappropriately familiar or selective in the choice of attachment figures

Treating RAD Is all about making the child or teen feel safe and comfortable in their environment. When a teen with RAD enters a therapeutic treatment center, it’s important they are prepared for therapy. Through therapy and training, they are taught how to relate with others and develop healthy attachments and relationships.

If you have a child with any of these behavior disorders, there are many resources available to help you navigate parenting in such a unique circumstance. Contact Sundance Canyon Academy for more information about treatment and any other questions you might have.