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Defiant Behavior in Teenagers

author image Candice Hughes
Candice Hughes has been writing for more than 6 years. She is currently a contributor to a website about raw food, fitness and diet. Her areas of expertise are women’s health and nutrition. Hughes received her Bachelor of Arts degree in English with a minor in psychology from Indiana University in 2010.
Defiant Behavior in Teenagers
A teenage girl with her back to her mother on the couch shows her the hand as if to say "be quiet" while she looks at her smart phone. Photo Credit: David Pereiras Villagrá/iStock/Getty Images

It has been said time and time again that teenagers are, by nature, defiant in their behavior. New parents think nervously about the day their little ones will reach the teenage stage. Often, however, defiant behavior in teenagers is caused by outside influences, rather than biology. Peer influence, drugs, depression, social disorders, and other pressures can affect teen behavior.

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Social Learning

Behavior is learned by imitating others and is strengthened through rewards and punishments, according to a study conducted by Ronald L Akers and associates at the University of Iowa. “In addition, people learn in interaction with significant groups in their lives evaluative definitions -- norms, attitudes, orientations -- of the behavior as good or bad.” In other words, a deviant teen may be acting poorly because his peer group evaluates bad behavior as “cool” or “normal” and rewards it while punishing good behavior.


In a research study conducted at the University of Virginia by Joseph P. Allen, popularity in school was suggested to positively affect teen behavior. Adolescents deemed “popular” were found to have a better developed ego and, therefore, positive interactions between friends and family. They were also found to be involved less in drug use and delinquency, while also avoiding violence.

Drug Use

Researchers Ron D. Hays and Phyllis L. Ellickson state that “Numerous empirical studies have demonstrated a positive association between harder drug use and deviance” Their more recent study found that “greater involvement with cigarettes and marijuana, as well as use of hard drugs,” is correlated with deviant and defiant behavior.

Teen Depression

Untreated depression in teens can lead to deviant behavior in the form of violence, poor school attendance, bad grades, running away, substance abuse, eating disorders, self-injury, reckless behavior and suicide. Signs and symptoms of depression, according to HelpGuide, can range from sadness and hopelessness, frequent crying, loss of interest in activities to fatigue, feelings of worthlessness and restlessness. If a teen is experiencing these symptoms, especially paired with deviant behavior, a family physician can help.

Oppositional Defiant Disorder and Conduct Disorder

According to Jim Chandler, MD, “ODD is a psychiatric disorder that is characterized by two different sets of problems. These are aggressiveness and a tendency to purposefully bother and irritate others.” ODD will be present if a teen has “a pattern of negative, hostile and defiant behavior lasting at least six months.” Indicative behaviors are often losing one’s temper, arguing with adults, deliberately annoying people, being angry and resentful, or spiteful and vindictive.

Conduct disorder is another condition that triggers deviant behavior. Conduct Disorder is characterized by aggression to humans and animals, fighting, cruelty, theft, destruction of property, skipping school, threatening others.


It is possible that your teen is perfectly healthy, yet having hardships dealing with peer pressure, puberty and other forces. If the deviant behavior is too hard to handle for you or your child, your family doctor may be able to help.

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