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Self-Destructive and Antisocial Behavior in Adolescents, Essay Example

Pages: 8

Words: 2074

Essay

Adolescents and young adults in society are faced with various personal and peer pressures. The difficult of growing up in the world has always been a struggle for young adults. However, add today’s social issues and environmental factors, teenagers and young adults are faced with many options for behaviors and choices made. Some find themselves behaving in self destructive and antisocial behaviors depending on the individual and the type of behaviors they engage in. Helping young adults takes patience and consistency in understanding the issues they face. Parents, schools and mental health professionals can help adolescents deal with these problems. It is widely agreed upon that self destructive and antisocial behaviors lead to problem adults if they are not dealt with adequately as youths.

Self-Destructive Behaviors

Self destructive behaviors in adolescents present in a variety of ways. Self destructive behavior ranges from bodily injury or mutilation to performing illegal acts. Most individual practice some form of self harm; just not to an extreme of self harm or distruction. Some individuals practice self harm from rituals which are socially acceptable means of self destruction. “Rituals are distinguished from practices in that they reflect community tradition, usually have deep underlying symbolism, and represent a way for an individual to connect to the community” (Wallace, 1999, para. 3). Cigarette smoking is a self destructive behavior which is socially accepted. For teenagers there is often the peer pressure to smoke and be ‘one of the popular group.’

Cigarettes smoking is not the only of self destructive behavior which are peer socially acceptable. Overeating with exercise avoidance, drinking alcohol, exceeding the speed limit while driving and unprotected sex are a few. While these may be unhealthy, illegal or immoral, they are still self destructive acts young adults practice and while they are antisocial, they are socially accepted by peer groups. Wallace explains the line between culturally sanctioned self harm and acts of destruction being seen as pathological are close (1999, para. 1). Pathological self destruction involves more intense behaviors leading to immediate bodily harm up to death by suicide. Whereas socially acceptable behaviors being a ritual, pathological is seen as a practice.

Self destructive rituals ultimately end in health problems such as cancer or AIDS. Practices lead to direct bodily harm such as self mutilation by cutting or a true suicidal attempt. Cutting behaviors have been linked to the fear of separation, rejection or disappointment (Wallace, 1999, para. 4). As the anxiety intensifies the person losses touch with reality and the aggression they feel inwardly is turned outwardly and they cut themselves with the goal of releasing the emotion.  “Cutting is a primitive means for combating the frightening depersonalization” (Wallace, para. 6).

Self destruction in adolescents may also be a form of a coping mechanism. Peer pressure is tough and some individuals may fall into self destructive behaviors in an attempt to relieve the pressure and stress. For example if an adolescent is learning to drive a car but actually is fearful of driving, they may wreck the car on purpose, refuse to take a driver’s education course or repeatedly fail the driver’s license exam and road test.  This form of behavior is self sabotage; hiding from the issue and refusing to deal with the fear or anxiety.

Self destructive behavior is believed by psychologists to be a type of self punishment. A low self esteem, low ego and seclusion have also been targeted as reasons for an adolescent to conduct self destructive acts. This is not on a conscious level but rather an attempt internally to gain control over situations. Clinical depression is an extenuating problem which worsens the person’s perception of threat or disappointment. Overeating and anorexia nervosa are examples demonstrating the self destruction of health at extreme levels.

Specific acts of self destruction which are injurious include also scratching, branding, bruising, picking and pulling at skin or hair. Non-injury forms of self destruction include sexual gratification, tattooing, body piercing and the desire to ‘fit in’ (Martinson, 2001, para. 3). The causes vary depending on the individual. For most the behavior is an attempt to alleviate stress and worry. The ritual of practicing these behaviors has a calming effect on the individual in the beginning. They continue the practice but need more to feel the same gratification and release. For some the behavior is a physical problem with the inability to efficiency generate serotonin (Martinson, 2001).

Suicidal attempts are the most frightening of all self destructive acts. Suicide brings out uncomfortable feelings in people who have never considered doing this; revulsion, anger, fear, and distaste (Martinson, 2001). Thereby, not recognizing the signs and symptoms. The reason for this excessive behavior can be due to many things. Major disappointment, rejection, sense of failure, school grades or witnessing something devastating are a few.  These are not causes but rather are reasons that a person will use to validate the decision to commit suicide. The ultimate cause is stress relief.

Antisocial Behaviors

Antisocial behaviors, much like self destructive behaviors pose problems for young adults.  “Antisocial behaviors are any acts that violate social rules and the basic rights of others” (Clark, et. al., 2002, p. 1). Problem behaviors associated with antisocial conduct are early manifestations of later externalizing problems (Benedek, 1999).  Physical aggression and oppositional behavior are a few of the serious antisocial behaviors practiced. Benedek (1999) iterate that some behaviors decrease with age, such as depression; however, others will increase such as substance abuse or delinquency (1998, para. 5).

Physical aggression along with gang organizations are antisocial behaviors which typically end in legal problems. Antisocial behavior is a general lack of observance of the social and ethical standards of society as a whole. Children who have conduct disorder problems early in life generally develop antisocial behavior problems. “Most of society’s worst criminals showed clear signs of antisocial behavior as children” (Wise Geek, 2009, para. 3).  Studying the crimes and the history of the criminals have helped define personality traits associated with antisocial behavior.

Individuals with specific personality traits typically demonstrate impulsivity, lack of control and enjoy breaking the rules. They are usually aggressive and will engage in an argument or physical fight for pleasures and show no remorse for emotionally or physically harming another. Antisocial individuals will steal, lie and is arrogant and overly confident. A common trait is extreme self-centeredness. Forming true friendships or relationships with an antisocial person is almost impossible. They appear to be charming in the beginning, ‘however, friendships are hard to maintain as it becomes clear that it is too difficult to be close to this person” (Wise Geek, 2009, para. 9). Children conducting antisocial behaviors have also been known to enjoy starting fires and showing no remorse for destruction by fire. Cruelty to animals has also been tagged as a personality trait consistent with antisocial personality. The total disregard for other living beings and aggression are key traits.

The cause of a person developing an antisocial personality is believed to stem from different reasons.  Commonly they include parental deviance, parental substance abuse, parental behavior problems and anxiety depression problems (Benedeck, 1999). The environment is also considered contributing factors with bad neighborhoods, ethnicity conflicts and unemployed parents. Poor impulse control, attention problems and the lack of guilt feelings are the core criteria believed to comprise an individual with antisocial behavior.

Attention deficient disorder (ADD) and attention deficient hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) are also factors which is often seen in antisocial behavior. Benedeck (1999) relates in his book review that “the authors see ADHD as a key element in young boys’ progression to diverse problem behaviors as adolescents; they note an association between ADHD and a progression to delinquency to substance abuse” (para. 4).

Genetic influences are also a consideration which theorists have studied for possible causes. Clark, et. al (2002) conclude “the characteristic features of behavioral under-control are highly susceptible to genetic influence, and common genetic factors may account for the associations between antisocial behaviors and drug use” (p. 112). Studies of adopted children and the variations between their biological and adoptive parents have shown evidence for antisocial personality disorder. The genetic factor is also strong for antisocial behaviors and adult drug and alcohol use.

Treatment

Activities of adolescents and young adults engaging in self-destructive and antisocial behaviors are intertwined and often overlap one another. Early intervention is the most advantageous for the potential of a successful outcome. Physical fighting and chronic disobedience are factors to address and begin teaching children how to deal with problems in a healthy manner. Children seldom just ‘grow out of’ conduct problems. Externalizing problems through physical or verbal abuse demonstrates poor impulse control and the potential for lifelong problems.

Parents and teachers working together will have a higher chance of successful intervention in adolescents demonstrating problems. Behavior modification is the beginning for re-training the way problem adolescents think and behave. While this is element to recognize and prevent self destructive and antisocial behaviors, behavior modification will only work with reinforcement and dedication by parents and teachers. Health care professionals also play a large role in training the techniques. Individual and group therapy has been shown to help reduce self destructive behaviors.

Parents and teachers have the initial chance to recognize and assist with intervention. Both should watch for the signs of self destructive or antisocial behavior. While some behaviors such as aggression or social withdrawal are obvious signs, the associated signs should also be taken seriously. The vast majority of children experience the troubling symptoms, such as boredom or low self esteem, teachers and parents should pay close attention to continued signs and symptoms.

Depressive symptoms may be a precursor to potential problems. Frequent crying and sadness with a sense of hopelessness coupled with social isolation and extreme emotional sensitivity give cause for concern. Depression can be short-term and specific; however, it also can be the lead-in to self destructive acts. Early diagnosis for depression can help in separating the single cause of depression or a more serious condition of self destruction or antisocial behavior development. Parents and teachers have to work together as a team when problems are seen either at home or at school.

Severe signs parents and teachers should recognize include a change in eating patterns, sleep disturbance, social withdrawal, or physical symptoms such as headaches or stomach problems. An adolescent who is considering suicide may complain of feeling like they are a bad person and believes that nothing really matters. They may exhibit a sudden period of happiness following a depressed state. The adolescent may begin to sort through their belongings and give things away. Bizarre and random thoughts which are uncharacteristic for the adolescent should also cause alarm.  Parents and teachers working together as a team when problems arise, and engaging a health care professional to work with them and the adolescent will better secure the prevention of suicide.

For behaviors such as over or under eating to the extreme, parents and teachers should recognize the benefits of group and individual therapy. Family therapy may also be warranted depending on the circumstances. Teaching and encouraging children to be honest and open and allowing them the respect of listening will help provide the safe environment needed to help work through the problems. Psychotherapy is not the all answer for the problems. Adolescent self destructive and antisocial behaviors have strong roots in the psychological makeup of the individual. Each case is individual and distinctive to that individual.

Self destructive and antisocial behavior is common among adolescents and young adults in society. The behaviors engaged in are varied and depend on the specific circumstances of the individual. However, most subgroups behave in similar ways. The causes stem from genetic to environmental as well as childhood experiences. The roles of the parents and teachers play an important part in recognizing and dealing with the issues. Enlisting the help of health care professionals is beneficial to the successful outcome for adolescents who have engrained the behaviors and cannot make the changes alone.

Works Cited

Benedek, Elissa P.  Book Review.  “Antisocial Behavior and Mental Health Problems: Explanatory Factors in Childhood and Adolescence.” Loeber, Rolf, Farring, David P., Stouthamer-Loeber, Magda, VanKammen, Welmoet B. American Psychiatric Association, December, 1999. Retrieved December 21, 2009 from http://psychservices.psychiatryonline.org/cgi/content/full/50/12/1642

Clark, Duncan B., Vanyukov, Michael, & Cornelius, Jack. “Childhood Antisocial Behavior and Adolescent Alcohol Use Disorders.”  Alcohol Research and Health. 26(2), 2002. p. 109-115.  Retrieved December 21, 2009 from http://pubs.niaaa.nih.gov/publications/arh26-2/109-115.pdf

Martinson, Deb. “What is Self-Injury?”  Web. Retrieved December 21, 2009 from http://www.focusas.com/SelfInjury.html

Wallace, Sheri. “What is Self-Injury?” Web. Retrieved December 21, 2009 from http://www.suite101.com/article.cfm/child_mental_illness/18748/2

Wise Geek. “What is Antisocial Behavior?” Web. Retrieved December 21, 2009 from http://www.wisegeek.com/what-is-antisocial-behavior.htm

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