You want your kids to have good friends and to behave well.

Factors Leading to Bad Juvenile Behavior

by Sheri Oz

From mild behavior problems such as disobedience or being impolite, to hurtful behaviors such as bullying, to serious criminal acts, the causes of misbehavior are essentially the same -- they only vary in intensity. By knowing the factors that often lead to bad juvenile behaviors, you can prevent your child‘s normal acting out from growing into serious behavioral problems.

Differences Between Boys and Girls

Boys who are experiencing distress are more likely to express that distress outwardly while girls are more likely to express it toward themselves. For example, boys might violently bully their peers or damage property and girls might cut themselves on the arms or legs or starve themselves. Not all children and teens who experience distress, even extreme distress, are violent toward others or themselves. However, those who do behave badly might be showing the world that they need help.

Individual Risk Factors

Impulse control is not usually attained until adulthood, in part because the brain does not fully mature before then, according to a 2010 article in the “Neuropsychology Review.” All adolescents are potentially at risk for making poor choices that can lead to behavioral problems. The website of the American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy reports that children and youths with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and other learning disorders, unstable temperaments and those who go through puberty early might be at higher risk than others because these factors affect their self-esteem and the way friends, parents and teachers respond to them. Children who were neglected or maltreated might also be at higher risk for later anti-social behaviors. Higher risk, however, does not necessarily mean that these children will grow up to behave badly.

Family Risk Factors

A Nebraska University guide to preventing risky adolescent behaviors suggests that poor parent-child communication and supervision, parental modeling of negative behaviors and families with little community support might increase the possibility that children and youths engage in anti-social behaviors. All families have problems and sometimes, through no fault of their own, parents are emotionally unavailable to their children, such as when severe marital problems or sudden joblessness occur. In that case, the extended family and community can play a role in mitigating the effect of parental difficulties.

Environmental Risk Factors

A 2013 study published in the journal “Violence and Victims” found that one of the most important factors affecting anti-social behaviors in youths is associating with a peer group that is involved in violence. Looking at it from a more positive perspective, a 2013 paper in the “American Journal of Community Psychology” reported that youths who felt their neighborhoods offered a variety of activities and meeting places for socializing were less likely to engage in violent and criminal behaviors.

What You Can Do

If your child has experienced trauma of any kind, consult a mental health professional so she gets the help she needs to heal. An article on the WebMD website suggests that you should know at all times where and with whom your children spend their time. Children who know their parents are in the picture feel protected and secure. At the same time, they are wary of behaving in ways that would anger their parents. Have clear rules and age-appropriate expectations with logical consequences for disobedience -- that also helps children feel safe. If you are going through a rough patch and are unsure you can remain emotionally available to your children, engage extended family members or someone from your religious community or social contacts to fill in for you until you regain your ability to be there for your kids.

About the Author

With an Master of Science in marital and family therapy, Sheri Oz ran a private clinical practice for almost 30 years. Based on her clinical work, she has published a book and many professional articles and book chapters. She has also traveled extensively around the world and has volunteered in her field in China and South Sudan.

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