Adolescent and Teen Mental Disorders: What is Oppositional Defiant Disorder?

Does ‘No’ seem to be your child’s favorite word? Have you ever secretly thought your kid might be evil? Do you ever wonder if an exorcist might offer more help than a psychologist? If the answer to these three questions is yes, your teen or adolescent may be demonstrating the symptoms of ODD, or Opposition Defiant Disorder. Sure, from time to time, even well behaved adolescents and teens can be highly uncooperative or hostile, especially adolescents. But kids with Oppositional Defiant Disorder consistently act out patterns of anger and aggression. The good news, is that with effective treatment, you can help your rebellious child become a resilient teen.

Parent: “You automatically argue with everything I say.”

Child: “I do not!”

Sound familiar? Being the parent of a son or daughter with Oppositional Defiant Disorder can be extremely challenging. The most common behaviors for teens and adolescents with ODD include:

  • Defiance
  • Spitefulness
  • Negativity
  • Hostility and verbal aggression

Child psychologist Douglas Riley, author of The Defiant Child, sums up the dilemma this way: “These children are most comfortable when they’re in the middle of a conflict. As soon as you begin arguing with them, you’re on their turf. They keep throwing out the bait, and their parents keep taking it -until the parents end up with the kid in family therapy, wondering where they’ve gone wrong.”

It May Not Be Your Fault

If you have a defiant child, you’ve probably already learned, the hard way, that  discipline strategies typically recommended for most kids just don’t work with ODD kids. The stress of dealing with an oppositional child can put a tremendous burden on a family. It can even ruin a marriage. Some of the added strain comes from a common misunderstanding. Your friends and relatives may incorrectly assume that what they see is the result of poor parenting. While inconsistent discipline can contribute to the problem, it’s rarely the only cause. Fortunately, effective techniques, and specialized treatment programs, can help you tame your wild child.

A Deficit of Attention, and a Deficit of Self-Control

Kids with ADHD often exhibit oppositional behavior. In some cases, the oppositional behavior may be a manifestation of ADHD-related impulsivity.

“Many ADHD kids who are diagnosed with ODD are really showing oppositional characteristics by default,” says child psychologist Carol Brady. “They misbehave not because they’re intentionally oppositional, but because they can’t control their impulses.”

Other Issues

A wide range of other issues or mental health conditions can compound the problem. Oppositional behavior may also provide an outlet for teens and adolescents that are trying to cope with frustration or emotional pain. “When under stress, whether it’s because they have ADHD, or their parents are getting divorced, a certain percentage of kids externalize the anxiety and depression they’re feeling,” says Larry Silver, M.D., a psychiatrist at Georgetown University Medical School. “Everything becomes everyone else’s fault, and the child doesn’t take responsibility for anything that goes wrong.”

Dr. Riley agrees. “Children know from a young age that they’re different from other kids,” he says. “They see themselves as getting in more trouble, and in some cases may have more difficulty mastering academic work -often despite an above-average intellect. So instead of feeling stupid, their defense is to feel cool. They hone their oppositional attitude.”

Growing Up to Act Out

Nearly half of all preschoolers diagnosed with ODD will outgrow this behavior by age 8. But older kids with ODD are less likely to outgrow it if they don’t get the right treatment early on. Left unchecked, oppositional behavior can evolve into much more serious behavioral challenges later on like physical violence, stealing, running away from home, fire-setting, and other highly destructive or illegal activities.

Parent Training

Parent management training can often be highly effective. Brady says that most of this type of training comes down to carrots and sticks. “On the carrot end, you work on giving your child praise and rewards for cooperating,” she says. “On the stick end, you lay out clear consequences for misbehavior, usually involving a time-out or the removal of a reward.”

While some parents may want resist the idea that they need training, Silver says you have to learn how to stop getting into fights with your child and lowering yourself to their level if you want the situation to improve. Unusually harsh discipline or a basic lack of structure will only reinforce the battle. “My most important rule is that parents should not take ODD behavior personally,” Riley explains. “Remain calm and friendly whenever you intervene. Oppositional kids have radar for adult hostility. If they pick up on your anger, they’re going to match it.”

Consistency is the Key

Dr. Russell Barkley, a professor of psychiatry at the Medical University of South Carolina, adds, “Creativity is always an asset to child-rearing, but it can’t hold a candle to consistency. Consistency in the way you treat your child, the way you set rules, convey expectations, pay attention, encourage good behavior, and impose consequences for bad behavior, is the key to cleaning up your child’s act.”

Getting Help

Sometimes the symptoms of ODD aren’t linked to ADHD. “Since oppositional behavior is often related to stress,” says Dr. Silver. “You have to address the source of the stress.” It’s often a good idea to have your teen screened for other mental disorders, such as anxiety, depression, and bipolar disorder, the experts say. Each of these can cause oppositional behavior, and each disorder may require special treatment.

Recovery is Possible

There is a light at the end of this tunnel, Riley wants to remind parents. He says  oppositional kids may have a great deal to offer once their problematic behavior is under control. “Oppositional kids are also often quite engaging and bright. They tend to be optimistic and very much their own person, with their own way of looking at the world. Once you work through their defiance, there’s a lot there to like.”

If Your Child is Acting Out, Act Now!

If your teen or adolescent’s oppositional behavior is severe enough to disrupt life at home or school, Discovery Mood can help. Creative coping strategies for difficult behaviors are just one part of our successful comprehensive approach. Our personalized behavior modification programs are tailored to fit your needs. We’ve been helping families find the way to long-lasting recovery for more than 18 years.

Call us at 800.760.3934

Discovery Mood provides multi-faceted levels of care for adolescents and teens with oppositional defiant disorder, anxiety disorders, depression, bipolar disorder, self-harm behaviors, gender identity, eating disorders, and other serious mental health disorders. Call now and speak with one of our highly trained admission specialists today. Or click on the link below for a FREE Mental Health Evaluation. All calls are completely FREE and strictly confidential.



Mayo Clinic: Oppositional Defiant Disorder Basics  Retrieved September 6, 2016.

Attitude Magazine: Why Is My Child So Angry? by Royce Flippin. Retrieved September 6, 2016.

ODD: A Guide for Families by the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry. Retrieved September 6, 2016.

The Defiant Child: A Parent’s Guide to Oppositional Defiant Disorder, by Douglas Riley, PhD. Retrieved September 6, 2016.