Criminal Psychology: Adolescent Aggression

Term Paper, 2013

31 Pages


Table of Contents


Aggression is a serious problem
Causes of anger in children
Warning Signs of teenage aggression

Risk Factors

Do boys and girls aggress in the same way?

Disruptive Disorders
The interrelatedness of ODD and CD
Possible causes

Issues of Mental and Medical Health
The Medical Issues
Emotional and Mental Issues
Cognitive Issues

Oppositional Defiant Disorder (ODD)
Demographics and Prevalence
Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)
Mood Disorders

Conduct Disorder
ODD Symptoms

Oppositional Defiant Disorder Treatment
Conduct Disorder (CD)
Demographics and Prevalence
Conduct Disorder’s Symptoms
Conduct Disorder diagnosis

Conduct Disorder treatment


Appendix A – Symptoms of Conduct Disorder (McIntosh & Livingston, 2008)
Appendix B – Diagnostic Criteria for Conduct Disorder (DSM-IV-TR)


List of figures:

Figure 1: Risk Factors in Aggressive Behaviour

Figure 2: Interrelatedness of behaviours associated with ODD and CD


In the course of this paper we will deal with adolescent aggression. At the outset, the manner in which teenagers deal with their anger will be discussed. The progression from feelings of anger to displays of anger and aggression will be covered. We highlight the causes of adolescent anger, included here are triggers of aggression and the signs for parents to be aware of.

Risk factors for aggressive behaviour among teenagers are outlined and the parallel between male and female displays of aggression are discussed. The manifestation of aggression has differences for boys and girls and concepts such as physical and verbal aggression are covered. The presence of both direct and passive aggression with relevance to sex differences is important to the content of this paper.

The potential for the development of oppositional defiant disorder and conduct disorder are also covered. Guidelines for parents with children who manifest aggressive behaviour will conclude the paper.

Aggression is a serious problem

Aggressive behaviour of teenagers takes a number of forms; these include but are not limited to physical aggression, verbal aggression and indirect aggression. Physical aggression includes actions such as hitting, pushing, kicking, punching and hair-pulling but often escalates into stabbings, shootings and rape. Verbal aggression in contrast, includes intimidating type actions, threatening peers, displays of teasing, name-calling and taunting. The intention to harm another person constitutes aggression, but aggressive behaviour is often not as direct – indirect aggression is equally as harmful and includes actions such as the creation of rumours, gossiping about a peer and the deliberate exclusion of a peer from a group setting or the encouraging of exclusive behaviour among teens.

The display of aggression is fairly common among younger children but becomes more dangerous as the child moves into his teenage years and young adulthood.

Statistics from research conducted with teenagers, indicates that around twenty percent of teenagers had been bullied during the past year. Up to thirty-three percent indicated that they had been involved in a physical fight and shockingly, thirty-two percent of females and forty percent of males had been involved in a serious violent act such as aggravated assault, robbery and even rape by the age of seventeen.

It is generally accepted that boys are more prone to displays of physical and verbal aggression than females but it is of significance to mention that most children who display aggressive behaviour do not continue with such behaviour into their teenage years. In contrast however, serious displays of aggression are usually quite rare before the age of twelve but become significantly more common during the teenage years for both boys and girls. “The empirical evidence shows that across the adolescent population, both male and female, rates of offending slowly increase after about 8 years of age, climb to a peak at 16-17 years of age, then drop sharply at 18 years of age and beyond” (Farrington: 1995).

With prevalence rates for aggressive behaviour so high, and a general increase in displays of violence into adolescence, the question begs, “What causes a child to become so angry that they aggress against others?”

Causes of anger in children

Children seem to get angry for a number of reasons, Dr Mann (2012) suggests that children often feel misunderstood; they feel that they are the victim of some injustice, the feel that they are being unfairly treated or they simply feel that they are not getting their own way. When it comes to adolescent anger the causes are a little more complex.

Unfortunately, anger in teenagers is viewed as a relatively normal factor. The numerous social and emotional problems in adolescence and the changes in hormonal levels lead to mood swings. Teenagers report feelings of anger related to their siblings, their peers, their teachers and often their parents. The transition from youth to adulthood is a difficult one for the teenager; they are trying to find their place in the world, they are battling with their sense of identity and desires for autonomy, peer acceptance and a sense of purpose in the world, all add to the stresses of the teenager. In addition, feelings of low self-esteem and attention seeking behaviour can encourage aggressive behaviour in the teenager – any attention is attention. They purport that they often feel that their peers and the world around them is criticising their every move, leading to stress, anger and often aggressive behaviour. It is prudent to add that aggressive displays of anger are not a ‘normal’ aspect of adolescence, it is behaviour that they could out-grow but it can easily escalate and insight from a trained professional should be sought.

We often find that depression is common during adolescence and it has the propensity to be displayed in aggression. Unprovoked aggression in teenagers can be an indication of underlying depression. This in conjunction with a change in eating habits, excessive amounts of time spent sleeping, school related problems and the experimentation with alcohol and drugs could be sound indicators of depression in your teenager.

Neurological research has indicated that an enlarged amygdala in the brain is connected to a higher incident of anger and aggression. Another neurological aspect of teenagers is Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD); anger is commonly found in children with ADHD, their desire for social acceptance can be an added source of frustration for them.

Oppositional Defiant Disorder may be a reason for anger, frustration and aggression in teenagers – this shall be discussed later.

Warning Signs of teenage aggression

It is accepted that aggression is perceived by some as a way of releasing their anger, it is also often used as a mechanism to gain control over someone and in numerous cases a way of retaliating against someone who has ‘wronged’ the adolescent. However, aggression can also be a result of childhood abuse or neglect, of learned behaviour having been witness to displays of violence at home or in the community; and the availability of appropriate weapons at home can increase the likelihood of aggressive, violent behaviour in an adolescent.

As a parent, teacher of care-giver, being able to identify the warning signs of impending violent or aggressive behaviour can assist in taking appropriate measures. There are a number of warning signs that should be noted:

- Previous displays of violence or aggressive behaviour
- Abuse of alcohol or drugs
- ‘gang’ membership or mentality
- A fascination with weapons
- Inability to control one’s anger
- Withdrawal from social or peer activities
- Loneliness or feelings of rejection
- Victimisation
- Declining performance at school
- A history of discipline problems
- Uncooperative behaviour
- Displays of disrespect and humiliation towards others
- Lack of sympathy

While these signs are important in predicting the propensity for aggressive behaviour, there are additional signs that should be taken very seriously if identified. The identification of these signs below should result in the parent, teacher etc. seeking immediate assistance from an authority figure or professional:

- Repeated physical fighting and loss of ability to control anger
- Destruction of property
- Increased use of alcohol or drugs
- Risk-taking behaviour
- Plans to commit violence, particularly detailed plans
- Verbalisation of threats to aggress against others
- The deliberate display of violence towards animals
- The carrying of a weapon

This may cover the signs that parents may be on the lookout for but are there any risk factors that could encourage violent, aggressive behaviour?

Risk Factors

In Teen Violence, William Goodwin (1998) outlines a number of ‘risk factors’ that could increase the likelihood that an adolescent will resort to aggressive behaviour. These factors include genetic factors such as inherited tendencies towards violent behaviour, the need for respect and attention and occasionally even brain damage. In addition, Goodwin identifies unhappy families, thwart with violent displays in the home environment as an increased risk factor for aggressive behaviour.

Displays of violence in the home environment have been shown to be the greatest determinant of aggressive behaviour in children and adolescents. The learned behaviour is an example of how to deal with anger and frustration, the child identifies this violent behaviour as a socially acceptable manner in which to ‘deal’ with their own feelings of anger. As mentioned earlier in this paper, the use of drugs and the availability of guns dramatically increase the likelihood that a child will use aggression against another.

Of particular significance in the South African context are the risk factors associated with poverty, inner-city violence and teenage sexual violence. Despite the attempt of the policing authorities to suggest that crime, particularly violent crime, is on the decline, the reality of the situation indicates that all forms of crime and particularly violent crimes continue to increase.

In the article, Facts for Teens: Aggression, taken from the National Youth Violence Prevention Resources Centre’s website, it is highlighted that with an increase in the number of risk factors evident in the child’s world, there is an increase in the likelihood that they will aggress towards others. In this article the risk factors are summarised for convenience as follows:

- Individual characteristics
- Home environment
- Relationships with peers
- School failure
- Exposure to media violence
- Community and societal factors

It is critical to point out at this point that although a significant number of children are exposed to these risk factors, only a small number of them become highly aggressive adolescents. This would suggest that there are protective factors at work in the child’s life as well as risk factors. These protective factors have the ability to protect the child from developing aggressive behaviour. The most effective protective factors include a commitment to school and a positive relationship with a supportive parent.

illustration not visible in this excerpt

Figure 1: Risk Factors in Aggressive Behaviour

Any form of intervention whether it be on the part of the parent, school or community that seeks to increase the protective factors for the child and thus reduce the risk factors that generate the propensity for violence, can significantly reduce the level and frequency of aggressive behaviour in the adolescent.

Do boys and girls aggress in the same way?

Boys have a tendency to use direct physical and verbal aggression, while girls have a tendency to use more indirect forms of aggression. The research of Hess & Hagen (2005) concluded that girls had a stronger desire for indirect aggression than boys, despite having a sense of approval in the peer group and being aware of the social norms around behaviour.

Boys commit decidedly more violent crimes than girls, with a ratio up to 12:1 in some cases. There is a slight decline in this ratio as the boys move into adolescence though, yet boys continue to have a higher rate of drug use right through adolescence. We have acknowledged that boys commit more antisocial crimes than girls but we are now seeing a rapid increase in the number of girls being charged for violent crime.

It is interesting to note that up to 10% of teenage girls manifest conduct disorder. The majority of aggressive behaviour in girls is covert (indirect) and so we see more females been arrested for shoplifting, fraud and drug-related crimes. Having said this, boys are up to four times more likely to end up in court (Meichenbaum: 1998).

It was found that boys and girls both utilise aggression in their relationships with their peers but girls have a tendency to use more indirect aggression such as character defamation and ostracism. However, there seems to be less verbal aggression among girls as they move into later adolescence.


Excerpt out of 31 pages


Criminal Psychology: Adolescent Aggression
( Atlantic International University )
Catalog Number
ISBN (eBook)
ISBN (Book)
File size
587 KB
aggression, adolescents, criminal, anger, rage
Quote paper
Gary Elliott (Author), 2013, Criminal Psychology: Adolescent Aggression, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


  • No comments yet.
Look inside the ebook
Title: Criminal Psychology: Adolescent Aggression

Upload papers

Your term paper / thesis:

- Publication as eBook and book
- High royalties for the sales
- Completely free - with ISBN
- It only takes five minutes
- Every paper finds readers

Publish now - it's free