Parent Training Can Improve Antisocial Behavior In Children and Teens

For children and teens who exhibit antisocial behavior, life can be very challenging. Likely, their lives have been difficult for a while. And not just for them, but also for the parents, teachers, and guardians around them.

Of course, all children and teens will demonstrate behavior that is to some degree “anti-social”. Part of their learning, growing, and developing is becoming familiar with social norms and managing their behavior well enough to follow those norms.

Essentially, the socialization of children happens from age 4 to age 11. According to Erik Erikson, a well-respected developmental psychologist, children progress through eight stages, faced with a challenge in each stage. The first two developmental stages – trust versus mistrust and autonomy versus doubt – take place during infancy and have to do with a child’s relationship with his or her primary caregiver.

The following two stages are essential for social exploration. At around age 4 or 5, a child will struggle with initiative versus guilt. In an attempt to discover who they are, a young boy or girl will explore a wider environment beyond the boundaries of family through play. When efforts to engage in physical and imaginative play are stifled by caregivers, children begin to feel that their self-initiated efforts are a source of embarrassment. Success in this stage leads to a sense of purpose, while failure results in a sense of guilt.

The next stage is industry versus inferiority. During this stage, a child is learning increasingly complex tasks and how to master them. Children who are praised for their tasks will develop a sense of industry, competence, and belief in their skills. Those who do not receive this praise from parents will tend to doubt themselves and lack self-confidence.

A brief description of these stages provides a background for discussing research studies that were recently done regarding parents and children who exhibit anti-social behavior.  The study found that parental training could improve behavior as well as reading performance in children who exhibit severe antisocial behavior.

Two research studies, specifically, assessed in children and teens: 1) antisocial behavior and antisocial character traits. 2) Reading achievement which is a significant factor in a child’s later occupational functioning, and 3) the quality of the adolescent-parent relationship.

These two studies involved children who were referred to a clinic and under treatment. The study began with 120 children ages 3 to 7 years old. Ninety-three of those children were reassessed between the ages 10 to 17. Another similar study involved 109 high-risk children between the ages 4 to 6 years old also exhibiting antisocial behavior.

It is known in the mental health field that a child or teen who exhibits antisocial behavior and who might be eligible for Conduct Disorder or Oppositional Defiant Disorder, and who go untreated, will later possess the traits of Antisocial Personality Disorder. These childhood and adolescent illnesses can be the precursor for Teen Antisocial Personality Disorder. Approximately, 3% of the population, or about 8,100,000 individuals in the United States have Antisocial Personality Disorder. Even more people (especially those with addiction) have antisocial personality traits and exhibit antisocial behavior.

Youth that are at-risk, meaning those who have had distressing childhoods, by virtue of their circumstances are more at risk to fail academically, occupationally, and socially. They likely had a poor or little attachment to a primary caregiver, tend to be vulnerable to harm against self and others, drug use, early sexual activity, suicide attempts, and mental illness. Two types of mental illness prevalent among at risk youth are Teen Conduct Disorder and Oppositional Defiant Disorder.

However, the recent studies mentioned above found that parent training for young children with clinical levels of antisocial behavior can improve behavior in children and teens. In both studies, two groups were formed: the intervention group and the control group. The intervention group received specific video training that covered praise and rewards, limit setting, handling misbehavior, and “right” and “wrong” behavior. The control group only received individual mental health treatment or telephone counseling.

Elements of antisocial behavior were improved in the intervention group as well as improved reading ability, warmer expressed emotions by parents, and closer parental supervision. It is clear that children and teens with untreated antisocial behavior or conduct disorder will have a very difficult time adapting to the demands of adulthood and will often have trouble holding a job, staying in relationships, and avoiding the law.  Early treatment, such as that provided in the study, is essential for the well being of an at-risk child or adolescent.


“Conduct Disorder.” American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, n.d. Web. 04 Mar. 2014.

March 25, 2014 “Early Intervention May Help Prevent Development of Antisocial Personality, Study Suggests.” Psychiatric News Alert. Retrieved on March 31, 2014 from