How to Identify Oppositional Defiant Disorder in Teens

Oppositional Defiant Disorder in teens refers to a persistent pattern of anger, defiance or vindictiveness toward parents and other authority figures. When a young person suffers from teenage defiant disorder, irritability and arguing are not the exceptions to the rule. Instead, such difficult behaviors are the characteristic way that the teenager reacts to authority and processes their surroundings.

According to a study approved by the National Institutes of Health, the statistical prevalence of Oppositional Defiance Disorder (ODD) in teens is about 10 percent. However, not every rebellious teenager suffers from ODD in teens. Instead, Oppositional Defiant Disorder needs to be diagnosed by professionals who look for specific signs in a young person’s ongoing behavioral patterns.

Oppositional Defiant Disorder often begins during the preschool years. In most cases, the onset of ODD usually happens before a child becomes a teenager. Thus, when diagnosing Oppositional Defiant Disorder in teens, a professional will look for a history of behavioral problems. Moreover, these problems usually affect the child’s family relationships, social activities, and school participation.

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Symptoms of Oppositional Defiant Disorder in Teens

As published by the American Psychiatric Association, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, known as the DSM-5, lists criteria for diagnosing Oppositional Defiant Disorder. According to these criteria, ODD is not diagnosed until these emotional and behavioral symptoms have lasted for at least six months.

Symptoms of ODD in teens include the following:

  • Frequent temper tantrums and emotional outbursts
  • Easily annoyed and frustrated by others, particularly adults
  • Consistently questioning rules and refusing to follow rules
  • Arguing and fighting with parents and other adults
  • Refusing to do what a parent or other adult request
  • Consciously taking actions to annoy or upset others
  • Shifting the blame for their misbehaviors to others
  • Speaking harshly or unkindly about people
  • Seeking revenge or being vindictive.

According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, the adverse actions and attitudes of an oppositional defiant teenager are more severe than in other adolescents of the same age. As a result, symptoms of Oppositional Defiant Disorder in teens can interfere with daily life. Moreover, teens with ODD are at a much higher risk for depression or anxiety disorders, both as teens and as adults.

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The Causes of Oppositional Defiance Disorder in Children

Researchers have not yet pinpointed what causes Oppositional Defiant Disorder in children and teens. However, they do know that ODD in teens is more common in boys than in girls. Furthermore, children previously diagnosed with attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) are at a much higher risk of developing Oppositional Defiant Disorder.

Concerning potential causes, the scientific community is currently researching two different theories:

The Developmental Theory

The developmental theory of ODD posits that Oppositional Defiant Disorder in teens is catalyzed during the toddler years. As a small child, they had trouble learning how to become independent from a parental figure. Once a separation happened, the child felt abandoned and began to view the world as hostile.

The Learning Theory

The learning theory suggests that Oppositional Defiant Disorder in teens is a learned trait. Hence, the child mirrors what they experience in the home environment. Negative reinforcement by authority figures opens the door to teenage defiant disorder.

Once Oppositional Defiance Disorder in teens manifests, the lives of a teenager and their family becomes much more difficult. The home can feel like a battlefield as opposed to a loving environment. Moreover, problems outside the home also erupt. Teens with ODD often struggle to make friends and maintain long-term relationships. This is one of many reasons why Oppositional Defiance Disorder in teens needs to be addressed.

How to Address Oppositional Defiance Disorder in Teens at Home

An oppositional defiant teenager is suffering from a mental health condition that causes them to act out in negative ways. Therefore, they benefit from help and support, at home and from mental health professionals.

To address Oppositional Defiance Disorder at home, here are six strategies that can help.

  1. Cultivate the ability to pause in the midst of a difficult interaction. This way, parents can avoid an emotional reaction and instead focus on a balanced response. ODD in teens often shows up as frustration and irritation. Rather than becoming angry with a teenager who is trying to elicit a reaction, respond calmly and with love.
  2. Institute routines. Therefore, parents can map out a consistent daily schedule for their teenager. It helps to include a teenager in the process of developing this schedule. In addition, parents can include times within this schedule to spend doing enjoyable activities with their teen.
  3. Set limits and rules with clear instructions. Moreover, enforce reasonable consequences for breaking these limits. Such rules should be set and discussed at a time when the teen and parents are calm, rather than during a conflict.
  4. Accept that your teenager will not change overnight. There will be challenges, and a teen’s behavior might temporarily worsen when faced with new rules and expectations. Parents should not allow their teens to bait them into reacting.
  5. Recognize and praise a teenager’s positive behaviors. Moreover, be as specific as possible. For example, “Thank you for getting home on time. I really appreciate how trustworthy you are.”
  6. Avoid power struggles with teens. ODD in teens is about the struggle, the drama, and the conflict. Reduce the noise, focusing on a resolution.

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Treatment Options for Oppositional Defiant Disorder in Teens

Many treatment modalities have been shown to help teens with Oppositional Defiant Disorder. According to the National Institutes of Health in the US National Library of Medicine, the clinical, psychosocial, and biological understanding of ODD is continuing to evolve.

Consequently, approaches for treating teenage defiant disorder include the following:

  • Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT): CBT shows a teen how to solve problems and communicate better. In addition, CBT can help a teen learn how to control impulses and reduce instances of anger.
  • Individualized Therapeutic Support: Teenagers also benefit from individualized therapy that helps them be more flexible within the family. Such treatment also helps them learn how to interact more positively and effectively with peers.
  • Peer Group Therapy: By working within a peer group and being part of a greater community, teenagers learn how to develop better social and interpersonal skills. For example, in Adventure Therapy, teens work together to navigate challenges.
  • Family Therapy: Family therapy focuses on improving communication skills and family interactions. Having a child with ODD can be very hard for parents and siblings. Therefore, the entire family of an oppositional defiant teenager needs support and understanding.

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Accepting the Challenge of Oppositional Defiant Disorder

In summary, dealing with Oppositional Defiant Disorder in teens is difficult for any family. But clinical approaches and parental strategies can make a significant difference. Hence, oppositional defiant teenagers need to be assessed as soon as possible. Finally, the ultimate goal is to access healing and hope.

If you or a loved one needs support please feel free to contact us. We’re here to help.

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J Am Acad Child Adolesc Psychiatry. 2012 Apr; 51(4): 384–393.

Psychol Res Behav Manag. 2017; 10: 353–367.

Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration