Antisocial Behavior & Juvenile Delinquency

Talking to your child about your concerns might help him feel your support.

Antisocial behavior in children and adolescents is a serious problem that can lead to increased instances of juvenile delinquency. Juvenile delinquency is the participation in habitual illegal or immoral behaviors in children under the age of 18, which generally leads to involvement with the criminal justice system. Although professional intervention is often necessary, parents who are worried about antisocial behavior in their children can take several important steps to help circumvent juvenile delinquency.

Antisocial vs. Normal Behavior

From time to time, all children break rules or engage in aggressive behaviors. Some degree of aggression like hitting or acting out, is normal in young children, and some degree of might appear to be antisocial behavior like testing limits, lying or cutting class, is typical of adolescent behavior. However, an elevation in severity and an increase in the frequency of these behaviors may be an indication of antisocial behavior, which might possibly suggest the presence of a more serious, underlying disorder, according to an article on delinquency and antisocial behavior published by the nonprofit youth advocacy and education agency, Not My Kid.

Antisocial Behavior

Antisocial behavior in children and adolescents is defined as defined as violations of social rules and acts of harm or aggression toward others. These behaviors can include fighting, lying, stealing, property damage, setting fires or being cruel to animals. However, to be classified as antisocial, the behaviors must occur with intensity and frequency -- not as isolated incidents -- and must interfere with the child's normal functioning, says psychologist Alan E. Kazdin in an article for "Eye on Psi Chi," the journal of Psi Chi, the international honor society for psychology.

Risk Factors for Juvenile Delinquency

A number of risk factors exist which increase the chances that a child or adolescent will become delinquent. However, according to a report published by the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, no single risk factor for delinquency predominates; often, an amalgamation of factors influences the outcome. Some common risk factors that may affect delinquency -- especially when combined -- include low socioeconomic status, being male, exposure to aggression, poor parent-child relationships, difficulty concentrating, frequent medical or physical problems, hyperactivity and poor discipline.

What Parents Can Do

It can be distressing, can provoke anxiety or be depressing and nerve wracking when your child engages in antisocial behavior. You might feel helpless or that your child is on a destructive, unstoppable path, but you can take certain steps that may help break this cycle. Learn about the differences between normal and antisocial behavior. Discuss your child's behavior with his teacher, school social worker or school psychologist to get their perspective on the situation. Talk to your child about your concerns as soon as possible -- the longer it goes ignored, the more serious the behavior can become. Consult with your child’s pediatrician for a referral to a licensed mental health professional who has experience treating antisocial behavior in children and adolescents.