Living with a behavioural disorder as a teenager, or living with a teenager who has a behavioural disorder, can be quite challenging. As these young people near adulthood, they need to be able to fit into society. However, we can support them, guide them and work with them to ensure that they do not feel rejected and that they reach their full potential. We need a clearer understanding of behavioural disorders so that we can better target interventions at school.
A behavioural disorder is a mental disorder that results in reactions and disorganization in the affected person. Those reactions, which persist over time, take the form of physical and verbal abuse. People who have the disorder often have a short fuse, object to everything, have difficulty with authority, are resentful and blame others.
There are two types of behavioural disorders: conduct disorder and oppositional defiant disorder. In both cases, the condition is often diagnosed at school age. A child with a behavioural disorder must have at least three out of four symptoms over a period of more than six months to be recognized as having a behavioural disorder.
Behavioural disorders often lead to academic difficulties for teens. As the concepts young adults have to learn become more complex, they do not always see what value the concepts will have in their future lives. They get discouraged easily, worry about the difficulty and refuse to do assignments. Here are a few tips to help you avoid this situation.
Take a preventive approach: from the start, set clear, precise, concise expectations that the teen can meet without reacting inappropriately. Also make sure you explain their purpose and benefits.
Teens with behavioural disorders need a support person to prevent escalation and help them refocus on what is required. Whether you are a teacher or a parent, it is a good idea to post the rules and the logical consequences if the rules are not followed. This way, the teen will not forget the instructions and will not be able to argue, ask questions or claim that you did not give any instructions.
You also need to divide the task into steps so that the teen can move at his/her own pace, enjoy small successes, and remain focused and engaged in doing what is required.
Often, teens with a behavioural disorder do not feel good about themselves and are confrontational with others. If they see that learning in a positive educational environment is possible, they will be more motivated to attend school, and you will avoid many arguments. Here’s what you need to do the following to support learning at school:
Making jokes or saying something funny will help the teen see the adult and the school in a positive light and realize that good relationships are possible. The teen will eventually realize that everything you are doing is for his/her own good, because you are working with and not against him/her. If you are a teacher, let the teen know that you appreciate him/her just like any other student, and make him/her your ally by asking him/her to do certain jobs to help you out.
If the teen flies off the handle and reacts strongly to a situation, it is best to have strategies for helping him/her calm down. A strategy that is often recommended for teens with behavioural disorders is the time-out. This involves stopping the task at hand and allowing the teen to take a step back. If you are at home, the teen can go to his/her room to recharge or, ideally, go outside to avoid breaking things. Choose a place where he/she can’t be aggressive towards others. The more the teen practises this strategy, the more he/she will become used to it and know what to do when he/she feels the pressure building.
It is important to recognize that the behavioural disorder may disrupt the teen’s academic progress. By keeping this in mind, supporting the student, and following the above strategies, you will gradually be able to curb the misbehaviour and help him/her learn as effectively as possible in a positive, non-judgemental environment.
*Some conditions and limitations apply.