What is Teen ODD? 

Teen Oppositional defiant disorder, also called ODD, is a behavioral diagnosis signified by resistant patterns characterized by anger, frustration, argumentative ways, and irritation. These patterns can start in childhood and by the teen years, can occur in comorbidity with other diagnoses including ADD or other conduct disorders and can also co-occur with anxiety and depression. ODD can be challenging for parents and caregivers since it may involve direct disobedience and outright rebellion. These behavioral patterns can start in the preschool years and intensify as children head into puberty and adolescence. It’s important to note that these behavior patterns tend to reflect underlying pain or suffering.

Often, by the time parents realize they need professional help they are exasperated and unsure of how to manage. Kids may be reactionary, defy rules and instruction, have a hard time communicating, and reflect disdain for authority. This can be incredibly draining for caretakers and can make it hard to know what to do, especially if kids are blaming, claiming they’re being unfairly treated or complaining about expectations. In addition, it can make you feel hopeless when you’re in a power struggle with an adolescent. The important place to start is to know that you’re not alone and that the behavior can change. What’s more, you have the power to play a role in the process from a place of empowerment and modify the dynamics for a better relationship and family harmony.

Why Does ODD Occur?

What we know, specifically about behavioral issues like ODD, is that family dynamics impact the patterns greatly and can be modified to alter relationships. Some factors that impact this condition include:

  • Predisposition – anxiety or depression can influence a teen’s desire to participate in daily activities, social outings, etc. In addition, emotional pain and trauma during a child’s life can impact the way they handle things.
  • Parenting style
  • Family dynamics and mental health concerns such as trauma, anxiety, attachment styles, substance use issues, mental health issues. If one parent is inconsistent or absent during a child’s life it can influence their sense of self-esteem and their interactions and connections with everyone else in their lives. According to the research on attachment bonds four of ten children lack strong parental attachment
  • Overall environment factors – socioeconomic, demographic, etc.

Hence, if we can alter the conditions influencing the behavior, we can potentially initiate change for the better. Once we know we’re dealing with ODD, we can start by assessing each of these factors with professional guidance and work toward healing.

How to Modify ODD Patterns in Teens

Often, ODD is influenced by a teen’s sense of self and confidence. Negative patterns of mirroring or communication can negatively impact self-worth. So, as caretakers, we start with ourselves in order to reflect the positivity we wish to see. This isn’t always easy but it’s usually a breath of fresh air for any parent in a power struggle. What is your teen doing well? What can we acknowledge in a positive way? Where can we show empathy?

Tips for Rethinking ODD with Teens

  1. Get centered. Managing emotional reactive teens can be exhausting so start by letting go of the need to fix, manage, or even change. Think about the dynamic within the family/caregiver structure. What role do you play? Are you comfortable with that position? How might you wish to change the relationship? When we start from awareness, it allows us to truly work on implementing shifts toward more positive communication and connection and this is really important. Compassion, conscious listening, and empathy will go a long way here. “I understand how you’re feeling, that must be hard.” “Hey, I’ve been thinking about spending some time together doing something we love, want to go for a hike/surf/bike/campout/walk the dog?” You get the idea.
  2. Set clear boundaries and structure. Work together to discuss the commitments of each family member, both to keep the home moving and in daily life. Use that information to provide framework for a family schedule to keep tasks progressing smoothly but also respect each individual’s commitments. Stick to it. This can be hard at times, but the idea is to hold this conscious awareness as a family.
  3. Avoid the fight. When it comes to interpersonal relations, discipline can be very challenging for parents or caregivers. The most important idea here is to do what you can to avoid a power struggle. In addition, you want the interactions to be as positive as possible. If things start to escalate or feel dramatic, pause and walk away – take time to settle and give your teen the chance to do the same. Our state of mind greatly influences behavior and outcomes so go back to number one and get centered. 
  4. Be positive. This may be the absolute most important part of all of this. Take a breath. See what good things are happening – even the littlest thing. Oppositional teens can get caught in negative spirals. As a result, adults may feel similarly. Notice the good things. Did he take the trash out as was requested? Perhaps she emptied the dishwasher without being told? These are massive wins. Acknowledge. Praise. You will never regret kind words such as these. Compassion is the bedrock of any healthy relationship. We must see the interconnectedness of our dynamics and hold them thoughtfully to convey the respect we seek. This means reflect this positivity toward yourself, as well. You are doing your best. The better you feel toward yourself, the better it will impact and radiate out to all other relationships.

If you are struggling with an oppositional teenager, don’t lose hope. You are not alone in this and professional support is just a call away.

At SoCal Adolescent Wellness, we provide the professional expertise to teach families the skills of emotional awareness, self-regulation, behavioral modification practices, and fundamental mental health support tools. We connect the symptoms and experiences with evidenced-based therapeutic interventions as we develop unique treatment plans for teens and families. Our team helps clients adjust and adapt to anything that life brings. We are here to help.