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Sociopathic Behavior in Teens

By Damon Verial ; Updated June 13, 2017

Young children are naturally aggressive; however, teenagers are not. If your teen is engaging in sociopathic behavior, it could be that your teen is a sociopath. But it is more likely that your teen is going through some social and biological changes that make her act in inappropriate ways.

Aggression vs. Sociopathy

Aggression is any action that intentionally causes pain, physical or emotional. An act of aggression, however, does not make a teen a sociopath. A sociopath does indeed often engage in aggressive acts, but sociopaths show no empathy or remorse for their actions. Parents often have little need to worry about a violent or verbally antagonistic teen being a sociopath, unless their teen shows a genuine lack of remorse for his behavior.

Diagnosing Sociopathy in Teens

Because adolescents are still searching for their identities in their teenage years, psychologists cannot definitely diagnose a teen with a stable, long-term personality disorder such as sociopathy. It is possible that a teen grows out of his bad behavior after a rebellious phase. However, psychology has given us some strong indications on what makes a person, teen or adult, a sociopath. Some signs that your teen may be a true sociopath include pathological lying, criminal activity, lack of self-control, lack of empathy and delusional goals. If you are truly concerned your teen might be a sociopath, consult a psychologist for a professional diagnosis.

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Prevalence of Sociopathatic Behavior

Most aggressive or violent behavior in children happens during the preschool years, around the age of 3. If you find your child more aggressive during her teen years than during childhood, there may be cause for concern. In the general population, sociopathy is prevalent in only 1 percent of teens, making it unlikely that your teen is sociopathic. However, a similar psychological disorder -- oppositional defiant disorder -- affects more than 10 percent of teens. Teens with this disorder are highly irritable, have trouble controlling their tempers, frequently argue and are deliberately aggressive. Fortunately, oppositional defiant disorder is treatable through behavior management and parenting strategies.

Parental Strategies for Control

During the teen years, parental strategies must change to allow teens more privacy while still setting clear limits. A teen acting in a sociopathic manner might change his behavior when families set reasonable limits that strike just the right balance between permissive and restrictive. Parental monitoring is also important. Parents should know where their children are, the friends they are with and what they are doing. Giving teens positive support and showing them genuine concern can help alleviate rebellious or aggressive behavior. Christina Lehmann, school counselor and author of “Oppositional Defiant Disorder in Adolescents,” notes that some children act in an aggressive manner as a call for attention, and that when parents give their teens positive attention, it eases the need for such behavior.

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