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How to Work With Conduct Disorders in Teen Girls

by Brenda Scottsdale, studioD

Teens with conduct disorder demonstrate a pattern of impulsive, destructive and sometimes unsafe behaviors. Being diagnosed with this disorder means the behavior is serious and persistent, according to a 2012 article on the University of Florida's website. While conduct disorder occurs in girls less frequently than it does in boys, 10 percent of teenage girls meet this criteria, making this the second most common diagnosis among teenage girls. Behaviors typical of girls with the disorder include lying, skipping school, running away, shoplifting and extreme nonconformity.

Set reasonable, clear limits and boundaries and enforce the rules consistently. Because she might lack empathy, your teenage daughter needs you to impose external limits to control her behavior. If she skips school, for example, take away her tickets to an upcoming concert. Consistently link misbehavior to consequences to stop minor misbehaviors before they become serious, according to an article on the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry website.

Use positive reinforcement. Just as she must learn consequences for misbehavior, your teenage daughter needs to be encouraged and rewarded when she's following the rules. Use non-monetary rewards, such as hugs and smiles, along with external rewards, such as new clothing.

Attend family therapy sessions with your teenage daughter. Therapy provides a safe environment where everyone can voice their feelings. Listen to what the therapist teaches regarding less defensive ways of communicating and positive conflict resolution strategies. Model these behaviors for your daughter when you're not in the therapist's office.

Take your daughter to individual therapy. She might benefit from the social skills training and conflict resolution strategies taught there, and she'll have a safe outlet for her feelings and opinions. She might be more likely to tell a neutral third party, such as a therapist, what's going on with her peer group.

Be tough. If the behavior involves breaking the law, consider reporting her to the police. Licensed social workers Kim Abraham and Marney Studaker-Cordner, in an article on the Empowering Parents website, said, "You may choose to make a police report if the destruction of your property is severe enough or is happening frequently in your home." A guideline offered on the Family Therapy UK website also emphasizes that involving the police is an option, especially if your child is violent or you do not feel safe. It's better for her to have a juvenile record which will be sealed when she becomes an adult, than it is to have an adult record that will follow her indefinitely. If she's refusing to follow the limits set at home, a probation officer's influence will hold extra clout. Remind yourself that while she might be angry with you in the short run, you are giving her the gift of independence and a less-troubled adult life.


  • The diagnosis of conduct disorder should only be given by professional, after a thorough diagnostic assessment. A psychologist will work with your child's doctor to rule out medical and other causes for her behavioral problems before diagnosing a conduct disorder.

About the Author

Brenda Scottsdale is a licensed psychologist, a six sigma master black belt and a certified aerobics instructor. She has been writing professionally for more than 15 years in scientific journals, including the "Journal of Criminal Justice and Behavior" and various websites.

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