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Conduct Problem & Delinquency


What are Conduct Problems?

Conduct problems refer to behaviors that are problematic to the family and community. These behavior problems include:

  • Aggression to people and animals
  • Destruction of property
  • Cheating and stealing
  • Serious violations of rules

Conduct problems can lead to conduct disorder when it involves repeated and consistent violation of basic rights of others, and breaking social rules.

What is Delinquency?

Delinquency is usually referred to as juvenile delinquency, where teenagers offend the law and refuse to carry out daily social obligations. As such conduct problems and delinquency are both general terms that describes a group of behavior that breaks the law and is offensive to the basic rights of others.

Signs & symptom

What are characteristics of juvenile delinquents?

Teenagers who are delinquents tend to:

  • Be defiant and oppositional to others and authority figures
  • Be irritable, angry, frustrated, agitated
  • Have an aggressive and hostile personality style
  • Have limited problem solving skills, poor academic achievement
  • Have poor social relationships, and lack of social conformity, thus are usually isolated
  • Come from families with high stress levels, parental discord, substance abuse, ineffective discipline styles, and history of mental illness
  • Have low empathy and tend to be impulsive
  • Have a high truancy rate, and tendency of running away from home

Boys are more likely to be delinquents than girls.

What other conditions are associated with delinquency?

  • It is common for delinquents to have disorders or problems with attention, anxiety, depression, substance abuse, learning disability
  • Delinquency is also closely linked to risk-taking behaviors

What causes delinquency?

Many factors contribute to delinquency in teenagers:

  • Improper parenting is a leading factor
  • Peer and social influence
  • Media influence

There is little evidence to show that genes play a role in delinquency.


What are the consequences of being a delinquent?

  • More exposed to violence
  • Usually get into trouble with the law or authorities
  • Being socially rejected
  • School suspension
  • Risk-taking behaviors
  • Develop mental health problems

Why do teenagers who are not delinquents sometimes get labeled so?

It is important to note that problems in conduct could also be due to deficits in skills (i.e. communication, learning, problem solving and social) but are labelled as a delinquent based on their behavior. Therefore, it is best to be careful in labelling and let the professionals carry out a proper assessment first.


What would objectives for treatment be?

  • Identify and reduce individual characteristics that contribute to delinquency
  • Identify and reduce factors in family that contribute to delinquency
  • Increase response to disciplining, appropriate behaviors, pro-social (helping) behaviors
  • Reduce hostile behavior and impulsivity
  • Improvement of problem-solving and social skills
  • Encourage positive attitude towards people, school, society
  • Parent training in teen management

What are the treatment methods like?

Treatment methods may include:

  • Behavior training – assertiveness skills, problem solving skills, anger management
  • Counseling
  • Parental and social support
  • Parent management training
  • Medication – only indicated if the child has co-morbid psychiatric or medical problems


Positive parenting Social support Spiritual development

Support groups

  • Teachers
  • Parents
  • Counselors
  • Psychologists
  • Pediatricians (Child and Teen Medical Specialist)
  • Psychiatrists
  • Spiritual Advisors


American Psychiatric Association (2000). Diagnostic and statistical manual for mental disorders 4th Edition. Text Revision. New York: American Psychiatric Association.

Last Reviewed : 20 April 2012
Writer : Prof. Madya Dr. Alvin Ng Lai Oon
Reviewer : Dr. Selva Ratnasingam