Adolescent TreatmentBlog

What You Need to Know About Oppositional Defiant Disorder in Teens

By May 8, 2020 No Comments
oppositional defiance disorder

If you’re a parent of a teenager, then you know teens can be difficult to deal with. For many kids, the teenage years are a whirlwind of emotions, changes, and new experiences. Kids are starting to come into their own and learn more about who they are. With their newfound responsibility, kids are often compelled to rebel or defy their parents. 

Most kids exhibit this type of behavior at some point during their teenage years. As a parent, it can be frustrating or even worrisome when your teen lashes out or treats you poorly, but know that this behavior is very normal to a certain degree. As teens get older, most will grow out of this phase and start to develop a more even-keeled temper and become more accepting of authority.

While many teens lash out at their parents every once in a while, it’s a much bigger and more consistent problem for other kids. Some teens lack complete respect for their parents or other authority figures in their lives. Teens who are extremely angry and rebellious could be experiencing Oppositional Defiant Disorder.

What is Oppositional Defiant Disorder?

Oppositional Defiant Disorder (ODD) is a behavioral disorder where kids exhibit patterns of extreme anger, irritability, or defiance towards authority figures. That could include parents, teachers, coaches, or anyone who has the power to tell the child what to do. Kids with ODD often struggle with their behavior at home, school, on sports teams, and in some social settings. 

Data shows that ODD is usually diagnosed before the teen years begin, with an average onset age of 8 years old. As the child gets older, their ODD often gets worse as they take on more freedom at home and in school. Between 2-16% of kids and teens are thought to have ODD. When children are younger, ODD is typically more common in boys. In teenagers, ODD is equally common in boys and girls.

The symptoms of ODD are consistent with typical tantrums in young kids, or argumentative young adults. However, ODD is diagnosed when the child’s behavior has lasted longer than six months and is more severe than what is to be expected for their age. Symptoms of ODD include:

  • Having temper tantrums
  • Excessive arguing
  • Refusing to comply with rules
  • Blaming others for mistakes
  • Frequent outbursts of anger and resentment
  • Seeking revenge
  • Swearing 
  • Saying hateful things when upset

Additionally, kids who suffer from ODD often struggle with mental health disorders, like anxiety, depression, and substance use issues. Part of that reason is that ODD is partly triggered by brain changes. When neurotransmitters in the brain are off balance, they can’t properly convey rational behavior signals, which leads to ODD symptoms. Neurotransmitter imbalances are also somewhat responsible for depression, anxiety, and addiction symptoms.

How Parents Can Help Their Teen With ODD

While there are clinical treatments available for teens with ODD, the first line of defense are parents. Parents who are around their kids every day play a significant role in helping the teen improve and manage their symptoms. But when parents are an outlet for their kids’ poor behavior, it can be difficult to resonate with them.

To find an effective solution, parents should start by thinking about their own resistance to authority. What things did your parents do that made you angry? If you set strict rules for your kids, consider how you would feel with those restrictions placed on you. Regardless of your age, no one likes feeling controlled by other people. Even if you have your teen’s best interests at heart, it helps to think about it from their perspective. 

It’s also important to find ways to have a calm and productive conversation with your teen. There’s no benefit in ignoring their behavior and hoping it will resolve on its own. You need to address the issue head-on and work with your teen to understand their behavior. Ask them why they are lashing out, and which rules they disagree with.

Then, work together to find a middle ground. If you decide to relax your rules to give the teen more freedom, trust will be essential, but give them the opportunity to prove that they can be responsible. Often times, teens with ODD lash out at their parents because they feel like they aren’t trusted to make good decisions for themselves.

If your child is engaging in risky behavior because of their ODD, let them know the reality of the situation they are in. If your child is obviously smoking, drinking or using drugs to defy your authority, show them that their behaviors are harmful to them, not just you.

For example, the CDC’s anti-smoking ad campaign, “Tips From Former Smokers” depicted people who have quit smoking but are living with life-long disabilities and illnesses due to nicotine use. Young adults were able to see the reality of what their life could look like if they continued to smoke. Explaining to your teen how their risky behaviors could be detrimental to their future in school, relationships and social situations could make them reconsider their actions.

Getting Treatment for Your Teen

At Mission Harbor Behavioral Health, we specialize in treating teens and young adults who struggle with behavioral, mental health, and substance abuse issues. Our staff works with every client to develop a personalized treatment method that is tailored to their specific needs. In addition to medication and psychotherapy, our treatment approaches also include group therapy, family therapy, alternative medicine, peer support, and self-help.

Our counselors will work with your teen and your family to uncover the root cause of their ODD and find ways to help them overcome their disorder and live a healthier, happy life. If you’re located in the Santa Barbara or Southern California area, call our admissions team today at (805) 209-4433 or send us a message online.

Sam Dekin

Sam Dekin

Sam Dekin combines his years of experience in behavioral health with a mission to innovate treatment methods and processes for mental health and substance abuse. Sam not only brings to the table his successful career owning and managing successful treatment facilities around the country but his dedication to creating an environment for healing. Sam obtained his Masters in Psychology and Marriage and Family Therapy from Pepperdine University.