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The Parents Toolbox for Extreme Behavior Disorders in Teens

The Parents Toolbox for Extreme Behavior Disorders in Teens

Behavioral disorders disrupt not only the children who suffer from them, but all of the people around them. The two most common are oppositional defiant disorder and conduct disorder. Learn about them and how to deal with life as you care for your teen with a behavioral disorder.

Oppositional Defiant Disorder

Oppositional defiant disorder (ODD) is a persistent pattern of defiant or hostile behavior. Approximately 15% of adolescents suffer from oppositional defiant disorder, and it usually affects boys more than girls. Treatment involves therapy with the teen and with the family as a whole to deal with the aftereffects of the behaviors. In some cases, medication is prescribed to reduce the irritability the teenager exhibits.

Conduct Disorder

Conduct disorder is similar to oppositional defiant disorder, but much more extreme. The behaviors often go against societal norms and violate people’s rights. Approximately 10% of teens suffer from conduct disorder, and most of them exhibit signs in early adolescence. Just like in oppositional defiant disorder, boys are more affected than girls. Treatments involves therapy and treating comorbid disorders, such as ADHD.

Reactive Attachment Disorder

Reactive Attachment Disorder is a rare but complex condition in which teens struggle to develop normal attachment and relationships due to poor connections formed in infancy. This can be common with orphaned or adopted children, as well as those who are neglected, abused, or abandoned in early years. The symptoms can be varied, but treatment involves therapy and support.


Anxiety Disorder can be a generalized term to identify a wide range of anxiety symptoms in teenagers. Anxiety is commonly manifest in teenagers, and can take the form of panic attacks, depression, feeling overwhelmed or hopeless, fear or unreasonable phobias, inability to focus or function, and other symptoms. Teens with anxiety may outgrow the disorder or symptoms, or they may be indicative of a lifetime condition. Depending on the teen and the severity of anxiety, treatment may include stress reduction, exercise, therapy, medication, and other resources.


Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder is an anxiety condition in which a person obsesses over something and indulges in a compulsive behavior in order to cope or reduce their anxiety over the obsession. Common obsessions can be germs, particular orders or patterns, or doubts/fears. Compulsions for coping can be things like handwashing, counting, or repetition. Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder often begins to manifest itself in adolescence and can be managed through identification, medication, and therapy.


Hair-pulling disorder is commonly linked with Obsessive-Compulsive disorder as it combines anxiety and a lack of impulse control. Teens with trichotillomania may pull out body hair as a way to cope with fear or anxiety. Treatment is usually necessary with behavioral therapy.


Attention Deficit Disorder is a very common mental/emotional disorder found in teens, and can range greatly in severity. Teens with ADD struggle to focus and maintain their attention on a focal point. They often struggle in school or in very structured settings. ADD can be managed through a variety of techniques and routines, medication, and therapy.


ADHD includes all of the symptoms of it’s brother – ADD – but with the addition of hyperactivity. Teens with ADHD may show signs of inability to focus, but also have trouble sitting still, tolerating things they find boring or dislike, or the inability to control their impulses. They may talk out of turn or even act dangerously. Like ADD, ADHD can be successfully managed with medication and routines.

Bipolar Disorder

Bipolar Disorder, or Manic Depressive Disorder, is a very serious mental disorder which usually begins to manifest itself in late adolescence, although can show up in young children. Bipolar Disorder is characterized by extreme mood swings – manic or happy episodes and depressive or sad/angry episodes. These swings can dramatically change their personality and behavior in unsafe and confusing ways. Bipolar Disorder is a serious condition which merits treatment and medication in almost all cases.

Eating Disorders

Eatings disorders such as bulimia, anorexia, binge eating, or compulsive dieting are increasingly common in teenagers – especially teen girls. Failure to eat, inducing vomiting, overeating, excessive exercise, or any extreme dieting or strange relationships with food can comprise an eating disorder. The effects can be serious and life-threatening, so therapy is necessary and constant observation at a residential treatment program is often critical for healing.

Help for Parents of Teens with Behavior Disorders

Navigating life with a teen who suffers from behavior disorders isn’t easy. There is help for you, though. These books have been helpful to parents of teen with behavioral issues.

The loss of parental control is one of the hardest things to deal with when a child has oppositional defiant disorder. In this book, Dr. Douglas Riley teaches parents how to know if teenagers have it and how to deal with the attitudes and behaviors that come along with it.

Dr. Ross Greene helps parents understand why some teens are easily frustrated and angry. He believes in non-punitive and non-adversarial ways to handle oppositional behaviors. There’s a focus on how to teach teens how to better identify and solve problems.

This book can help if you’re struggling with your teen and school. The author explains how discipline in schools are ineffective. The book identifies the best ways to help troubled teens in and outside of school.

What Else You Can Do

The best thing you can do to help the situation with your teen’s behavior is to remain calm. The more you can control your emotions, the more you can control the behaviors. Being able to identify what is bothering the teen and then coming up with potential solutions will help him or her change direction to handle situations effectively.

As you work with your teen on his or her behavior, expect that it will affect your relationships, especially one you have with your spouse. Take time away regularly to spend time away from the chaos that ensues from your teen’s behaviors, so you can reconnect. With that time away, you’ll be able to rebuild your strength as a team to handle all upcoming situations with control.

At Sundance Canyon Academy, we work with teenagers suffering from oppositional defiant disorder, conduct disorder, and other behavior disorders. We have many programs available that help teenagers understand how their behavior are destructive and what to do to change them. Call us now for more information.

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