Does your teen have Oppositional Defiant Disorder (ODD) or do you suspect they do? If so, they will respond differently than most teens when you try to set limits or implement consequences. They will often rebel and will challenge you more, disregard rules more and sometimes even thrive on conflict and pushing your buttons because it gives them a sense of power and control. Having a teenager who is ODD does not make them a bad person by any means. Teens with ODD are often very bright, creative, determined and have many of the same strengths other teenagers have. With that said, they can be very challenging and tiring for parents because of their determination and willfulness. Below I offer a brief clinical description of ODD and then some tips for parents of teenagers with ODD who are struggling with managing their challenging behaviors.
Criteria for Oppositional Defiant Disorder (ODD):
At least 4 of the following behaviors must have been present for 6 months or more for a child to meet the formal clinical diagnosis for ODD
- Often loses temper
- Often argues with adults
- Often purposefully defies rules
- Often purposefully annoys others
- Often blames others for their mistakes or bad behavior
- Often is easily annoyed by others
- Often is angry or resentful
- Often is spiteful or vindictive
(All of these are behaviors that most parents see to some level in teenagers, however, teenagers may meet the criteria for this diagnosis if the behaviors are frequent and more severe than the average teen)
In addition, these behaviors:
- Cause significant problems at home or at school
- Are not due to another Mental Health diagnosis
- Do not meet the level of Conduct Disorder (teens with conduct disorder are more likely to be violent, steal and become involved in criminal activity)
If you believe your teenager has ODD, you can certainly explore getting professional support for them as well as for you since parenting can be increasingly challenging and frustrating. There are formal evaluations that can be done by a therapist or even at school if you feel these would be helpful. The good news is that many teenagers grow out of this diagnosis and the challenging and rebel behaviors go away as they enter adulthood. One of the biggest frustrations for parent with teens with ODD, as I mentioned above, is getting them to follow the rules and to care about the consequences. Below are some suggestions for parents who are struggling with this issue:
- Be really clear about the rules and keep them as consistent as possible: I often suggest that parents write the rules down and both parent and teen sign them which makes it harder for teens to challenge them, manipulate them or say they did not know about them in the moment.
- Do not give chances: the rules need to be the rules ALL the time and need to be enforced consistently. If a teen with ODD thinks they have any wiggle room or that they can bully or badger you into changing the rules, you will be challenged over and over which will result in your feeling completely drained.
- Only issue consequences you can enforce 100%: this is the biggest and most important part of all of this. Teens with ODD are those who, when grounded from the phone, will still sneak on it when you are sleeping. Or when they are grounded from going out, they will sneak out the window. If you issue a consequence you cannot fully enforce, you will lose power. Some examples of ways I have helped parents with this issue are: completely turning off the cell phone service or blocking the internet service in the house, taking away a laptop or unplugging the keyboard from the computer and locking it in the trunk of the car where it cannot be accessed, restricting providing rides for teens to do fun things or restricting spending money given to them. They will still try to get around these things and will likely have some level of success. If you restrict them from the phone, they will use friend’s cell phone, so what is important when issuing these consequences is to say something to your teenager like, “Because you did not come home again on time for your curfew, I have taken your cell phone and you will not be allowed to use it for one week”. (you are not saying that they are not able to talk on the phone at all for a week because you know they can use a friend’s phone – you are saying they will not be able to talk on THEIR phone for a week which is something you CAN control 100%).
This can be tiring to say the least and parents often feel like they are being punished too by having to turn off the internet or dealing with their teenager’s constant badgering when consequences are issues and enforced. This is all very true and is the reason why many parents throw in the towel and give full control over to their teenager. But it does not have to be that way – get the support you need and if you are consistent, you will see progress.
For more tips on staying consistent, go to the How To Parent A Teen website at www.HowToParentATeen.com and download the free audio program for parents of teenagers.