Assessment of InappropriateBehavioral DevelopmentIt is far easier to measure a child’s physical growth and maturation than to assess the complexities of individual differences in children’s disruptive and antisocial development. Pediatricians can clearly record increases in a child’s weight and height on growth charts and even provide percentile estimates indicating how a child compares to others at the same age.
Measuring and interpreting acceptable versus unacceptable and normal versus abnormal behaviors among children and adolescents are far more complex. Children and adolescents often test the limits of appropriate conduct by crossing the boundaries set by caretakers. When a youth exhibits a particular problem behavior, it is important to consider not only if the behavior has previously occurred, but also if it is exhibited in multiple settings and with what frequency, duration, intensity, and provocation. For example, a 2-year-old who playfully nips a playmate is less off the mark of developmentally appropriate behavior than a 4-year-old who aggressively and frequently bites playmates to forcefully gain possession of desired toys. Among adolescents, a certain degree of misbehavior, experimentation, or independence seeking is common. In fact, the American Psychiatric Association (1994) indicates that “New onset of oppositional behaviors in adolescence may be due to the process of normal individuation.Order now
” On the other hand, youth who persistently and progressively engage in problem behaviors with significant impairment in personal development, social functioning, academic achievement, and vocational preparation are of great concern to caretakers. Also of concern is the broad category of “antisocial behaviors” that have an appreciable harmful effect on others, in terms of inflicting physical or mental harm on others or causing property loss or damage. The Semantics of Disruptive and Delinquent Behavior A mother finds parenting exhausting and describes her 7-year-old son as extremely energetic, frequently switching from one play activity to another, often losing his things, and forgetting to do his chores. A second grade teacher notes that her student has a learning disability, as he is unruly, requires constant disciplinary attention, fidgets or squirms in his seat, fails to follow directions or complete assignments, refuses to wait his turn, and often disturbs his classmates.
A child psychologist indicates a young boy lacks the ability for sustained mental effort, is easily distracted by extraneous stimuli, displays poor impulse control, and meets the criteria for Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), as defined in Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders: Fourth Edition (American Psychiatric Association, 1994). The mother, teacher, and psychologist could all be speaking about the same 7-year-old boy, each from his/her own perspective. Research indicates that young boys with ADHD are at increased risk for subsequent involvement in other disruptive and delinquent behaviors (Hinshaw, 1987). What is meant by disruptive behavior and delinquent behavior? According to parents, this may include disobedience, fighting with siblings, destroying or damaging property, stealing money from family members, demanding attention, threatening parents with violence, and keeping the household in an uproar. Teachers and school principals find students’ behavior unacceptable when it interrupts or disturbs classroom learning, violates the code of conduct in school, threatens the safety of faculty and students, and involves vandalism or theft. Students displaying such behaviors may be expelled, suspended, or placed in special, remedial, or alternative education programs.
Many of these boys have been labeled emotionally disturbed, behaviorally disordered, learning disabled, handicapped, exceptional, or truant. The criteria for such labels vary across States and localities. Research has shown that students with learning disabilities and behavioral disorders are more likely to come into contact with the juvenile justice system and are more likely to be incarcerated (Leone, Rutherford, and Nelson, 1991). Mental health practitioners consider a range of diagnostic labels as disruptive child behaviors, including hyperactivity/inattention; negativistic, oppositional, and defiant behavior; and conduct disorder that may involve aggression to people and animals, destruction of property, deceitfulness or theft, and serious violation of rules, such as those regarding curfews and school attendance (American Psychiatric Association, 1994).
Among juvenile justice practitioners, the disruptive and delinquent behaviors of concern are legally defined as: ? Delinquent acts involving the destruction or stealing of property, commission of violent crimes against persons, possession or sale of alcohol or drugs, and illegal possession of weapons. ? Status offenses, which would not