It’s normal for children and teens to resist what their parents and teachers ask them to do—and even sometimes to lose their temper, argue, or yell. A certain amount of resistance is part of the normal process of separating from parents and establishing their own identity. The teen years, especially, can be a time when a young person resists authority more than ever. A healthy teen might ignore requests, break rules, and express anger.
Signs and symptoms
So, if you’re a parent who’s facing a lot of resistance from your young child or teen, how do you know what’s normal and what needs serious attention? Or, if you have a friend who’s always getting in trouble, how do you know when you should talk to them about their behaviour and suggest they get help?
A child, teen, or even an adult might have a mental health condition called Oppositional Defiant Disorder (ODD). This means their difficult behaviour is an ongoing pattern that affects their relationships and ability to function in day-to-day life. If the person makes a habit of breaking rules, rarely does as they’re asked, acts in hostile ways, and has a hard time controlling their reactions and behaviours, there is a very good chance they have ODD.
It’s important to realize that a person with ODD is not choosing to behave this way. Their defiant, angry behaviour is a sign that they have a mental health problem. ODD is a mental health problem on its own, but kids with this problem might also have other mental health issues, such as Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), that play a big role in their behaviour. The key to helping them learn to control their behaviour is to connect them to help. A professional will be able to identify and address underlying mental health conditions. If these are looked after, the behaviour problems look after themselves.
As a parent or a friend, review trusted online sources of information about ODD and mental health problems that go with it. Learn about resources in your community that can help. For younger children, parenting programs like Strongest Families, teach parents how they can behave and interact with their child to create more harmony and cooperation at home. If the child is older and behaviour problems are entrenched, mental health professionals can help them learn to cope with their feelings, control their impulses, pay better attention and manage their behaviour.
A young person might also develop Conduct Disorder. Such kids might bully other kids, hurt animals, pick fights, steal, lie, and do other antisocial behaviours. It’s critical that these young people be referred to a mental health professional for assessment and treatment. It is important that children and youth with Conduct Disorder receive early intervention and treatment. Speak with your family doctor, or contact Mental Health and Addictions Services at the IWK.