Oppositional Defiant Disorder in Teens

Mother and daughter arguing in living room
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Oppositional defiant disorder (ODD) is a mental health disorder that presents itself in childhood characterized by oppositional behavior, a persistent pattern of negativity, hostility, and defiance toward authority figures. Some oppositional and defiant behavior in adolescence are expected but when a teen has ODD annoying, argumentative and uncooperative behaviors are so frequent that it negatively impacts their daily life in a number of ways.

A troubled teen with this disorder is very difficult to live with due to frequent power struggles, a disagreeable attitude and frequent attempts to elicit a strong reaction from others.

Symptoms of ODD

The symptoms of ODD are usually most noticeable in the home setting but are also often seen at school and in the community. The behaviors listed are more likely to be indicators of ODD when they are an ongoing pattern for a period of at least six months.

The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) describes the primary features of Oppositional Defiant Disorder as:

  • Frequent arguing with adults
  • Recurrent episodes of losing one's temper
  • Refusing to comply with rules or requests
  • Blaming others for mistakes or misbehavior
  • Deliberately doing things to annoy other people
  • Easily annoyed by others
  • Angry and resentful
  • Spiteful or vindictive towards others

Additional behaviors frequently seen in teens with ODD include:

  • Problems in school
  • Poor self-esteem
  • Difficulty with peer relationships
  • Questioning rules
  • Saying mean and hateful things to others when upset
  • Very negative attitude
  • Aggressive
  • Moody
  • Easily frustrated

What to Do if Your Teen Has Symptoms of ODD

Teens with symptoms of this disorder need to be evaluated to properly diagnose the underlying cause of these behaviors.

In some cases this disorder occurs along with another disorder - it's not clear which comes first. Most commonly a teen with ODD may also suffer from ADHD, and in some cases may also have symptoms of depression or anxiety.

A good place to start is to have a physician assess your teen to rule out other possible causes or contributing factors. Be prepared to describe in detail the troubling behaviors your teen is exhibiting. Specific treatments are determined by many factors including your teen's age, severity of symptoms and willingness to participate in therapy. Treatment of ODD usually focuses on improving anger management, problem solving and relationship skills through the use of some or all of the following therapy methods:

  • Individual therapy - to help a teen with ODD learn more effective ways to express and control anger.
  • Family therapy - to improve family interactions and get support for the impact this disorder has on all family members.
  • Medication - there is no specific medication approved for the treatment of ODD but several drugs may be tried to alleviate some of the symptoms.
  • CBT- to improve problem solving skills and decrease negative thought patterns.
  • Parenting support groups or classes - for suggestions and support in dealing with a difficult teen.

The earlier this disorder is identified and treated, the better the chances of minimizing it's negative impact on your teen and your family. When ODD is untreated teens are likely to experience worsening problems due to ongoing aggressive, hostile and annoying behaviors.

Parenting Troubled Teens content is reviewed by the Medical Review Board

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