Conduct Disorder

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Conduct Disorder

As immediately as infancy, children express individual characteristics that can  be considered aggressive.  The child can be aggressive in the way it cries, the way it plays and the way it attains attention.  Parents of children that have a hard time sleeping through the night, trouble accepting affection and/or difficulties with hyperactivity are often so stressed and bothered by these behaviors that they resort to negative reinforcement techniques in their parenting.  Examples of this can be seen in spanking, harsh reprimanding or even ignoring the childs behaviors.  By using negative reinforcement, the parents are unknowingly strengthening the prevalence of these behaviors, and therefore, the risk of these types of activities to continue through adolescence is also heightened (Patterson, 1982).
Children who tend to not comply with authority in infancy have a greater chance of having an aggressive temperament in adolescence (Kolvin, Nicol, Garside, Day & Tweedle, 1982;  Olweus, 1980; Webster-Stratton & Eyberg, 1982).  Therefore, as difficult children become adolescents, they present an even greater challenge for their parents, school officials, law enforcement and the community.  Often ignored is the biggest challenge, which is the child dealing with this instability of his or her mental well-being.  We will see in the research provided that conduct disorder is multifaceted, consisting of some components which are hard to conceptualize and of others that are common knowledge.  However, each aspect is crucial in understanding the scope of this mental disorder, starting with its history of violence and ending with its lacking intervention.


Conduct Disorder is the most common psychiatric disorder in childhood, affecting approximately 7% of boys and 3 % of girls in the general population (Meltzer, Gatward, Goodman, Ford, 2000).  Unlike most mental disorders, which afflict solely the diagnosed party, conduct disorder has serious implications for both the subject and the rest of society.  Violence, over aggressiveness, and inappropriate behavior, such as stealing and drug and/or alcohol abuse, are all frequently expressed characteristics of the disorder, however, it is not, by far, limited to these three alone (Campbell, 1990).  With an immense array of characteristics, from antisocial behaviors having to do with the violations of the rights of others and also those not having to do with the violations of the rights of others, it is not possible to touch on each.
This paper will focus almost entirely on studies involving antisocial behaviors that violate the rights of others because of their predominately violent nature.  Also, this type has been exemplified as the necessary cause of school-aged offenders malicious attacks, such as those at Columbine High School.  However, we must understand that the prevalence of child offenders has not changed significantly in past years.  What has changed is the gradual elevated seriousness of the crimes committed by children and adolescents over time and also the medias over reaction to such offenses.
It is of great importance to create various subtypes in the classification of conduct disorder to facilitate personalized methods of studying and interceding these defiant behaviors.  One example of these subtypes is childhood versus adolescent onset.  The severity of  crimes is reported to be directly associated with the age at which the disorders characteristics first emerge.  Moffitt (1993) indicated that children afflicted in adolescence will commit offenses that exemplify their rebellion from authority largely because of societal and environmental factors.  With even more severity, children with the childhood onset type will commit offenses that are violent and victim-oriented along with delinquent activities because of individual and family characteristics.  In a study by McCabe, Hough, Wood and Yeb (2001), it was hypothesized that individuals with childhood onset disorder would commit more violent crimes than their adolescent-onset counterparts.  More specifically, as theorized by Loeber (1990) and Tolan (1987), McCabe et al. (2001:2) it was predicted that, the stability of conduct disorder is significantly related to the age of onset of the disorder, with earlier onset predicting greater persistence of the disorder over time.  McCabe et al. (2001) also go on to confirm the hypotheses of Moffitt (1993), which claimed that early onset conduct disorder is rooted in neurological deficits and poor parenting, while adolescent-limited antisocial behavior is caused by the immediate urgency for adolescents to mature to an adult level and participate in adult activities before they