Are Conduct Problems a Cause or Effect of Rejection?

Conduct problems (CD) are behavior issues that usually occur in childhood or adolescence. Children with CD have high levels of aggression toward others, particularly those in authority. Parents, teachers, and other authority figures are often the target of hostile behavior, deceitfulness, and impulsive actions by children with CD. These negative patterns of behavior can affect a child’s well-being through many domains.

First, CD has a negative impact on social interactions. Children who are not aggressive will reject aggressive and hostile children. This rejection can cause CD children to feel isolated and then internalize those emotions, possibly leading to problems like depression or anxiety. Other children deal with rejection through further externalizing, increasing their aggression, and coping in other maladaptive ways such as using drugs or alcohol.

Somaieh Salehi of the Department of Counselor Education and Counseling Psychology at the University Putra Malaysia recently reviewed existing data on CD to find out if there was a link between aggression in CD and peer rejection. Specifically, does peer rejection cause CD, or does CD lead to peer rejection?

Salehi discovered that the aggression-peer rejection relationship was bidirectional. Children with high levels of aggression and other CD-related issues are often shunned by their less aggressive peers, and even teachers. This can result in poor academic performance and negative social experiences. These children may then gravitate toward other children experiencing rejection. These new social ties can increase CD behavior.

Children who do not have aggressive tendencies, but who do experience peer rejection for other reasons, may find themselves befriended by other rejected children with CD or aggressive behaviors. In an effort to fit in with these kids, non-aggressive children may adopt aggressive tendencies. In this way, CD can be both the cause and an effect of peer rejection.

Salehi feels that the best way to address this problem is by arming the teachers and parents. “They need more information about CD and managing children’s problems in terms of disruptive behavior, aggression, and parent-child relationship,” said Salehi. Programs and interventions designed to educate and include parents, teachers, and children could help empower all parties to diffuse aggression associated with CD.

Salehi, Somaieh, et al. (2013). Aggression and Peer Rejection among Children with Conduct Disorder. Asian Social Science 9.4 (2013): 133-9. ProQuest. Web.

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  • Sylvia

    June 7th, 2013 at 3:56 AM

    Oh I definitely think that being rejected by your peers can be about aggression but I also think that in some cases it is about so much more than that. Sometimes even the sweetest kids who are the ones being shunned, and it stuns me because there is just no rhyme or reason sometimes why they would be excluded by their peers.

    If I had to bet some money on it I think that a lot of times most kids are just looking for an easy target, and in some cases that target would be the aggressive child but in others it would be the one who is more passive. I am not sure that you will see consistency across the board on this one because there are just too many other variables that could influence how they behave.

  • BB

    June 8th, 2013 at 6:03 AM

    Kind of one of those things that go hand in hand. You act out and others don’t like you. People don’t like you so you act out some more. And the cycle continues

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