Antisocial personality disorder is an adult diagnosis used to indicate the presence of specific antisocial traits in people over the age of 18. The American Psychiatric Association determines the criteria required to receive a diagnosis for this disorder. However, the pattern of antisocial behaviors often begins in childhood or adolescence. Teenagers cannot technically receive a diagnosis of antisocial personality until they turn 18, but they can display certain antisocial traits.
Causes of Antisocial Personality in Teens
Antisocial behaviors and traits usually cannot be pinned down to one specific cause. Antisocial behaviors can be the result of poor parenting, such as a lack of parental involvement or concern or poor role modeling, according to a study published in the March 26, 2010 issue of the "Journal of Early Adolescence." It might also occur due to the presence of certain disabilities, such as learning disorders or attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. Antisocial behaviors can also be the result of differences in brain structure, says a 2011 study published in the "American Journal of Psychiatry." Sometimes, teens who display antisocial behaviors just feel misunderstood, angry, depressed or are simply testing the limits.
Types of Antisocial Behaviors
Teens who display antisocial traits usually engage in a combination of aggressive, destructive, rule-breaking and risky behaviors. These behaviors are often combined with certain personality traits. Antisocial behaviors in teens can involve intentional aggression towards others or animals, such as starting fights, bullying or hurting animals. It might also involve excessive or dangerous risk-taking behaviors, such as reckless driving, breaking and entering, running away from home or shoplifting. Adolescents who display antisocial behaviors might steal or destroy property that belongs to others. They also might engage in other prohibited behaviors, such as drinking alcohol, taking drugs or smoking.
Antisocial Personality Traits
In addition to specific behaviors, antisocial adolescents often display certain personality traits and show a lack of "normal" emotion. They generally do not experience or show empathy toward others. They are often unable to truly relate to their peers or to feel remorse or guilt for their behaviors. They might appear to be cold or detached, especially when confronted with their behaviors or wrong-doings. They are unable to modulate their behaviors and emotions, and might lash out in rage or anger at parents, siblings, teachers or friends.
What Parents Can Do
It's not easy to deal with an adolescent who displays antisocial behaviors and personality traits. But it's important to let your teen know that you are aware of his actions. Ignoring the problem will only make things worse. Let him know that you do not approve of his actions and that you are concerned about his behavior. At the same time, let him know that you love him and want to help him deal with any problems he might be experiencing. If you feel that the problem is too much to handle alone, consult a qualified mental health professional or discuss your concerns with your child's school psychologist. Early intervention might help improve the outcome of his behaviors and reduce the potential for serious consequences.