Nearly 10 percent of adolescent girls in the United States meet the criteria for conduct disorder, a diagnosis describing youths who persistently exhibit behaviors that violate rules and rights of others – truancy, fighting, stealing, lying, cruelty or property destruction are examples of this. Conduct disorder is less prevalent in girls than in boys, although it is the second most common psychiatric diagnosis among adolescent females. Many of these teenage girls with conduct disorder may grow up to have poor adjustment in adulthood, with mental and physical health problems and difficulties parenting.
A recent study, conducted by researchers at Nationwide Children’s Hospital and published in the October issue of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry and Mental Health, sought to determine if three domains of social context – neighborhood, family characteristics and parenting behaviors – were associated with conduct disorder in adolescent girls.
“Our findings indicate that conduct disorder in adolescent girls is not significantly associated with neighborhood quality, but is, in fact, correlated with family characteristics and types of parenting behaviors,” said Kathleen Pajer, MD, MPH, the study’s lead author and principal investigator in The Research Institute at Nationwide Children’s Hospital. “Minority race, neighborhood quality and family poverty had some effect on conduct disorder in adolescent girls, but not once family interactions with the girl and her parents’ own history of delinquency, conduct disorder or criminality were taken into account.”
Conduct disorder and delinquency share some characteristics. An adolescent caught doing one illegal act is deemed delinquent, and conduct disorder describes that a youth has engaged in multiple deviant behaviors over a long period of time.
“Social context, such as poverty in the neighborhood, has long been known to affect rates of delinquency, but very few studies have examined whether social contexts are associated with conduct disorder in girls,” said Pajer, also an associate professor of Pediatrics and Epidemiology at The Ohio State University College of Medicine. “Our results are somewhat different than studies on the role of social context in delinquency.”
Pajer concludes, “Our findings may help us develop better treatment for girls with conduct disorder. Some interventions designed for delinquent girls or boys may not be successful in treating conduct disorder in adolescent girls."
Data for the study were obtained from nearly 100 participants (15-to 17-year-old girls) in a large mid-Western city. Half of the girls were diagnosed with conduct disorder, while the other half, a demographically matched group, had no psychiatric disorder.