Conduct Disorder

I took a vacation. No, wait, that’s not right – because I’m pretty sure that if I took a vacation, you know, a real one, I’d still be there: sitting on a beach somewhere, basking in the sun, drink in hand….

But I’m not. And I didn’t.

I did, however, take a non-self-imposed break. It’s hard to write when you have only enough energy to sit and stare at the monitor, compulsively checking Facebook or the various boards to which you belong. Harder, still, to rouse yourself enough to exercise, or eat properly, or to clean the house. About the only thing I’ve managed to do is get to bed at a fairly decent hour most nights…only to get very little actual sleep.

Today, boys and girls, we’re going to talk about Conduct Disorder, or CD.

Briefly, a child diagnosed with CD has certain misfirings in his brain and is incapable, to a certain extent, of following the rules. Doesn’t much matter which rules, or whose; it’s often accompanied by any or all other types of disorders and illnesses, most of which can be summarized by groups of letters: ADD, ADHD, APD, BPD, and so forth. And there are more.

Some kids start with ODD, Oppositional Defiance Disorder, and progress, with age, to CD. For some kids, this is a phase, so to speak, and they outgrow both or either. For some, it continues and, joy of joys, when they reach the arbitrary age of 18, it segues into Antisocial Personality Disorder. Nope, you can’t tell what the outcome will be until it happens.

I’m not going to go into the ins and outs of these disorders, because I’m not a doctor and I don’t even play one on TV – or on the Internet. What I am going to talk about is the affect on families.

First, however, I want to add that ODD, CD, and APD do not consist of your typical child-stage behaviors. For instance, if your toddler crosses his arms and shouts, “No!”, he does not necessarily have ODD; if your teenager pouts, stomps, and slams doors, he probably is just moody. On the other hand, and teenagers being my specialty I’ll stick to them, if your teenager takes all those “typical” behaviors a few steps further, if you can look back and recall other incidents over the years, you might have a problem on your hands.

And please, let me emphasize “might”. Many things can be the cause of behaviors that are similar; there are excellent Internet resources, such as, which can give you much better information than I.

So, back to the effect of these kids and their behaviors.

First, no one believes you. These kids are very, very good at playing victim, blaming everyone else, and putting on an intelligent, mature attitude at will.
Imagine a teen visiting at your home, one of your child’s friends. He appears to be smart, courteous, all the attributes that you might wish your son possessed or someone you’d like your daughter to date. At some point, he might become rather quiet, and you might see a sad expression on his face. You might try to draw him out, and ask if something is wrong. He might tell you that he wishes his family could all get along like yours; that you really listen to your kids and that there’s no yelling, it’s so peaceful here in your home.

You’d be rather shocked if you knew that his family DOES get along, except when he is causing trouble; you’d be surprised if you knew that when he said you listen to your kids, implying that his parents do not, that they DO listen – the first time he says something. It’s after he’s badgered them for an hour, repeating himself, flinging ugly accusations, that they tune him out. And, of course, you’d find it hard to believe that the only yelling that occurs in his home is in direct correlation to yet another of his lies or manipulations or explosive rages.

Of course, none of this is his fault. If his parents didn’t have silly rules, like pick up after yourself, keep your room clean, do your laundry, ask permission to go somewhere, be in by curfew, don’t blow your money, don’t lie, don’t steal, don’t cheat, go to school, and so forth, he’d behave perfectly. If the cops didn’t lie about him and keep an eye out for him, he’d never be in trouble with the law.

You might even, if you’re very unlucky, have your son or daughter come to you at some point, retelling this kid’s tale of woe, with all his embellishments, insisting that you call the police because his parents are beating him, locking him up, refusing him food, etc. You might even do it. At the very least, you have an upset teen on your hands, begging you to help their friend.

Of course, at some point, possibly weeks or months from now, you might ask your teen about this friend. You haven’t seen him around for awhile, and you’re wondering how he’s doing. You will probably be very, very surprised to learn that he’s in detention, foster care, jail, or on the streets. Or a psych ward. And that your child wants absolutely nothing to do with him, because she’s afraid, or he’s been lied to so many times, or either or both have been taken advantage of in some way.

And then, your guilt kicks in. You have been, for weeks or months, thinking horrible things about this kid’s parents. What monsters they were for making this poor child so miserable, yelling at him, grounding him, taking him to doctors, calling the police, insisting that there was something wrong with him – and he was so polite, so charming, so mature.

So you write it off as a chapter in your life best forgotten. What you should do is call these parents. Offer your condolences, apologize if you feel it necessary, let them know that now you believe. It isn’t taboo – part of them died when they went through all this, part of them is numb and grieving. Still. I don’t think it ever ends.

Because this is what these parents have dealt with:

Constant stress and tension, never knowing when their child is going to take off or blow up. Repeated visits by the police; sometimes by caseworkers. False accusations of abuse and neglect. Continuous verbal harassment, sometimes physical altercations. Fear, of their own child. Getting up each morning, with all this to look forward to; or not. Sometimes this child can be just as he was when he was at your house: charming, pleasant, good company, fun to be with. Sleeplessness, because you never know just what he’s capable of doing while you’re asleep. Shame, because even though you’ve tried everything, taken all suggestions, read all the books, talked to all the doctors and counselors, surely, surely, you missed something, could have done it better, or more, or something….

And of course, grief. This child was once a tiny, helpless infant; you had such hopes and dreams for him. He was once a smiling, giggling, rambunctious toddler. You remember this. And now he’s not. There’s something wrong. And for months, or years, you’ve tried to figure out why and how. You’ve tried to get someone to believe you, to help you. And even when you do, it doesn’t end. It doesn’t stop.


2 comments on “Conduct Disorder

  1. Evelyn Guy says:

    You have so described my situation over the years, but right now, my situation is many fold magnified to what you described. I am in fear for my child’s life, and maybe mine, too. Yes, I call him a child, because even though he is 19, he is still an immature child. I don’t know if we will make it through or not, but at least I know someone else has been there, done that, and appeared to have survived. The hidden scars don’t tell the whole story, though. I don’t think there is ever healing from it.


    • Mine, too, in many ways is a child; but he’s always been rather self-sufficient and I’ve never had to worry about him being in any kind of situation, as far as staying fairly safe. I’m so sorry you’re going through all this – it’s very hard, but we can survive it.


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