Causes of Conduct Problems
Theories regarding the causes of child conduct problems include child biological and developmental risk factors (e.g., attention deficit disorders, learning disabilities, and language delays); family factors (e.g., marital conflict, depression, drug abuse, and criminal behavior); ineffective parenting (e.g., harsh discipline, and low parent involvement in school activities); school risk factors (e.g., teacher's use of poor classroom management strategies, classroom level of aggression, large class sizes, and low teacher involvement with parents); and peer and community risk factors (e.g., poverty and gangs). Emerging data suggest that there are no clear-cut causal links between single risk factors and a child's academic and social-emotional problems; most of these factors are intertwined, synergistic, and cumulative (Group, 1992; Hawkins & Weiss, 1985; Reid & Eddy, 1997). For example, a child who is temperamentally hyperactive, impulsive, and inattentive will be more difficult to parent or teach. This child will be more likely to receive harsh discipline than encouragement. This critical discipline style will not promote prosocial behaviors and provides negative models of behavior, thereby further impeding the development of adaptive social-cognitive skills. Family stress, such as that associated with unemployment, marital difficulties, and poverty, often contributes to ineffective parenting, resulting in poor cognitive stimulation and academic support. Upon school entry, behavioral and academic problems are likely to result in frequent discipline from the teacher and peer rejection. This leads to fewer opportunities to practice both academic and social skills and poor parent and child school involvement. Teachers may misunderstand the reasons for lack of parental involvement and respond more critically to the parent, further eroding the bonds between the home and school. Moreover, teachers may lack the knowledge, skills, and resources to assist children with behavior problems and their families. Poor classroom management may result in increasing levels of classroom disruption/aggression, which can have significant effects on the individual child's risk for continuing aggression. Thus, spiraling risk factors continue the cycle of developing conduct problems over time. A more complete review of etiological factors can be found elsewhere (e.g., Stoff, Breiling, & Masters, 1997).
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