Trying to understand the causes of misbehavior

Trying to understand the causes of misbehavior

After the Aurora, Colorado, shooting I wanted to read more about school violence.  As I read Dave Cullen’s Columbine, about Dylan Klebold and Eric Harris’ real issues, I couldn’t help thinking about the many kids I have seen over the years as a teacher and school counselor.   A few stick out in my mind as possible suspects in future violent acts – not just in school but outside school as well. Jokingly, we used to say (about a particularly disruptive or disturbed student), “I bet he’ll look good in orange” (of course, referring to the ubiquitous correctional uniform). (This is not really funny, I know.)  Recognizing that these students had serious issues, I tried to talk to school administrators and the students’ parents but was, most often, met with resistance.  Once, in fact, after calling a parent and suggesting that she seek mental health counseling for her child, she became furious with me and called the County Superintendent.  I was investigated and it was determined, after also interviewing his teachers, that they agreed that he should be receiving professional mental health intervention. I was off the hook.  But I determined that it was my responsibility as a school counselor to report to the  administration and parents any behaviors that I considered to be “beyond the norm” (my quote). As far as I know to date, neither of these students (who are still in school at this time) has committed a serious crime or shown evidence at school that they might do harm to themselves or others.  What goes on outside of school, I don’t know.  But I contend that I will not be surprised to someday see them in orange. And this scares me.

When I talk with parents about misbehavior, I often tell them to do some of their own research and cite Rudolf Dreikurs’ Goals of Misbehavior.  According to The Advantage Press, Dreikurs, who studied under Psychiatrist Alfred Adler in the 1930s, determined that students (note that Dreikurs writings pertain to children, but I believe they can be applied in a broader sense) all misbehavior has a purpose.  This is important.  Students (in the broader sense, people) misbehave for the following reasons:  1) to get attention,  2) to seek  power and control, 3)  to get revenge, and 4) because of helplessness or inadequacy. The first three goals are fairly easy to understand.  The first two are easy to deal with.  Goal 3, revenge, is more difficult to address, and goal 4, helplessness or inadequacy is even more difficult.  Let me explain.

Attention – If a child/student/person is misbehaving to get attention, try this: give him some attention!!  Try “noticing” him! Pay attention to him!  Just 10 minutes a day, focus on his child.  Then, if the misbehavior stops, he was simply seeking attention.  Easy, right?

Power and control -  If a person is misbehaving to get power or some control (“power struggles”, sound familiar?), give them some power and control over some things (of your choosing, of course)!!  Adults want control of things, so do children. Get a child a pet to take care of, let her decide what she’s going to wear, let her choose what she wants for dinner, etc. This is not rocket science.  If you give a person some control over his life, he’s less likely to misbehave.  So far, so good.

Revenge -  If someone is misbehaving to get revenge, reversing this misbehavior is a little more difficult.  First, find out the reasons for seeking revenge.  Divorce or separation from a parent, grief, bullying, favoritism of another sibling; there are various reasons for seeking revenge.  Identify the reason and find ways to alleviate                  the hurtful feelings that this person harbors.  Learning to forgive, developing empathy, redirecting focus, involvement in community activities are some ways to address feelings of revenge.

Inadequacy - This is a  biggie.  If inadequacy is the cause of misbehavior, it might require professional intervention.  Inadequacy includes physical disabilities (real or perceived), developmental  delays or intellectual deficits, chronic illnesses, sexual orientation issues or mental health disorders.  Mental health issues such as bipolar disorder, depression, schizophrenia, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD, or just, ADD), or more serious pathologies can cause severe cases of misbehavior.  According to a recent article in the Los Angeles Times, a baby is born addicted to drugs every four hours.  I’ve seen young children in school dealing with the ravages of being born with a drug addiction (transmitted from the mother), with Fetal alcohol syndrome or infected with HIV.  This is heart-breaking and it could make a child/student extremely difficult to deal with and cause serious behavioral problems.

According to Dave Cullen’s Columbine website, 6% of teens in America suffer from clinical depression(2 million kids!).  This was the case with Dylan Klebold. He had been previously diagnosed with depression and, according to his diaries, wrote frequently about finding love.  Eric Harris, too, suffered from a mental illness (not diagnosed), but it was much more serious. Cullen determined after researching the killers for 10 years that Harris was a sociopath or psychotic.  He lacked empathy, and, in fact, relished hurting others – he took pride in it!  It is unknown if Harris could have been helped, but, for sure, Klebold could have been.  Except he got hooked up with Harris (looking for love, acceptance) and we know the outcome!

My point is this:  Children misbehave all the time.  Misbehavior is purposeful.  So, let’s fix the easy cases.  Give our kids much-needed attention (please, this doesn’t mean dote on them); let’s give them some control over their lives and not make all their decisions for them; find out the causes of why they seek revenge and change the situations, if possible (at the very least, acknowledge those feelings).  Most importantly, focus on feelings of inadequacy/mental health problems.   Recognize that teenagers, preteens and even young children can be depressed – clinically depressed.  And need professional help.

It is everyone’s responsibility – not just teachers, counselors, parents, but the entire community – to reach out to those in need. To those who exhibit serious issues with misbehavior.  Not only do I not want to see any kids I know in orange, but I do not want to read that they were involved in a violent act like what happened in Aurora,  Columbine, Blacksburg, or more recently, in Milwaukee.

This is my rant today.

 

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