Handling Children with Juvenile Delinquency – Nigeria

Keywords: Juvenile Delinquency, conduct disorder, personality disorders, PTSD, Nigeria. 


Handling Children with Juvenile Delinquency – Nigeria. What is the connection between conduct disorder and juvenile delinquency? Are there psychological, social, cognitive and physical complications from untreated conduct disorder? What are the risk factors to become juvenile delinquent? Can conduct disorder and juvenile delinquency be prevented and treated? What is the way forward?

In this write up, Handling Children with Juvenile Delinquency – Nigeria, the topic of conduct disorder will be revisited. This is because one cannot write or discuss effectively the issues of juvenile delinquency without bringing in conduct disorder. The two are related. Conduct disorder is a psychological term, while juvenile delinquency is a legal term.

What is the connection between conduct disorder and juvenile delinquency?

Conduct disorder is a behavioural and emotional disorder seen in children before age 18 years.   These children are aggressive, destructive, deceitful and violate rules.   So a child who has conduct disorder has problems with adhering to rules and regulations. And these children have behaviours beyond parental control and that are socially unaccepted by the society.

Some people refer to conduct disorders as juvenile delinquency. Actually, juvenile delinquency is characterized by antisocial behaviours of children less than 18 years that require legal actions. The behaviours of these children are beyond parental control. So the child who has juvenile delinquency has conduct disorder and is in trouble with the Police or Judiciary.

Not all children with conduct disorder get into trouble with the police and the judicial system. So conduct disorder cannot be used interchangeably with juvenile delinquency, even though they are linked.

Complications of conduct disorder.                                       

Children with conduct disorder that are left untreated may resolve without treatment, this is about 70% of the children. But the rest will end up having complications. And these complications are:

Psychological issues:

Depression –

These children may develop depressive disorders. Depression may develop in children with conduct disorders from different reason. First, these children have passes through abuse and neglect in families before developing conduct disorder, which can predispose to depression. Secondly, these children are socially rejected by the general society, so that interpersonal function is strained. So they feel sad because they are unable to maintain friendship. Thirdly, depression can be an aftermath of school failures. These children with conduct disorder may abuse substances such as alcohol, cannabis, etc. which are risk factors to developing depression.

Not only do the child with conduct disorder hav depressive disorders, so do the parents. The parents, especially the mother can develop depression due to the behaviour of the child.

Anxiety disorders –

Children with conduct disorder are at risk of developing generalized anxiety disorder. They can also have phobias and separation anxiety disorder. Scientists have shown that children with conduct disorders are about 3 times more likely to also have anxiety disorders.

Hyperactivity –

Many children with conduct disorder are hyperactive. One of the reasons could actually be that Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) co-occurs with conduct disorder.

Substance abuse –

Many children who have conduct disorder also abuse substances such as cannabis, methamphetamine (ice), alcohol, etc. These children use these substances to attempt treating the psychological complications such as depression, anxiety, etc.

Low self esteem –

Self esteem is about how the person feels about himself or herself. And children with conduct disorder do not feel good or believe in themselves. This tends to make them more aggressive.

Personality disorder –

Children with childhood onset conduct disorder are more likely to develop personality disorders in adulthood. Personality disorders are maladaptive ways of behaviours that are lifelong and inflexible. These include antisocial or dissocial, narcissistic, borderline and obsessive compulsive personality disorders.

Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) –

Adolescents with conduct disorder are at high risk of having PTSD. This PTSD occurs because both PTSD and conduct disorder are brought about by Adverse Childhood Experience (ACEs). The ACEs are traumatic events that occur in childhood. Also the behavious put up by those with conduct disorder can predispose to PTSD. The PTSD is even worse in those with juvenile delinquency. Some of the symptoms of PTSD in children are re-experiencing of the traumatic event, known as flashbacks. The child will also fear and numbness as well as irritability and angry outbursts, etc.  

Sleep problems –

Children that have conduct disorder also have sleep problems. Inadequate sleep contributes to their disruptive and impulsive behaviours.

Suicide –

Adolescents with conduct disorders are at risk of suicide. This is because of many factors such as depression, substance abuse and impulsivity.  

Social issues:

Isolation –

These children are at risk of being isolated or stigmatized by their family members, teachers and peers. This isolation is brought about because of the behavious of these children with conduct disorders towards other people. These children are aggressive, destructive, deceitful and violate rules.

Because these children face isolation from children without conduct disorders, they are more likely to form groups or cults. In these groups they are accepted because of their bad behaviours.

Criminal acts or Juvenile Delinquency –

Children with conduct disorders are more likely to commit acts of crime. These include rape, robbery, theft, arson, etc. Arson is a criminal act of deliberately setting fire to someone’s property. These children are referred to as having juvenile delinquency. Not all children with conduct disorder are likely to get involved with crime. Only about one third of children with conduct disorder get involved with crime. What makes a child with conduct disorder more likely to get involved in crime includes, having the childhood onset of conduct disorder. Other risk factors include hyperactivity and impulsivity, the abuse of drugs, having low self esteem and having a personality disorder. Having academic and sleep problems are also  risk factors.

In their cult groups, which are peer groups with like minds, they can easily commit offenses as a group. But some children are unable to find cult groups to join they do commit offences individually on their own.

In Nigeria, most of the children who get arrested for juvenile delinquency end up locked in prison. Among adolescent Nigerian children serving jail terms for juvenile delinquency, 56.5% had conduct disorder in one study. All Africa papers reported in December 2021 that there on children in Correction Centres around the countre. It reported that there is a total of 33 children in various correctional centres across the country. Dr. Grace Ijarogbe reported on Daily Trust that locking up minors with adults could result in mental health problems in future.

Unfortunately, the prisons have hardened criminals who end up getting many of these children hardened in their behaviours. So by the time they get released from jail, these adolescents, most probably now adults commit worse crimes. This is the major reason for writing this topic, Handling Children with Juvenile Delinquency – Nigeria.

Cognitive and academic issues:

Children with conduct disorders are at risk of having school failures. This is because they play school truancy, are less attentive in class and abuse substances or drugs. They are also bullies to other children and even the teachers. Their IQs, memory, etc. are low and they have problems with their frontal lobes.  So, many of these children will finally drop out of school.  

These children also have issues with problem solving. It is because of this poor problem solving skills, that they are aggressive and abuse substances.

Physical problems:

For the fact that these children get into frequent fights, they can have physical injuries. These physical injuries include head injuries, fractures bones, etc. which can also come from motor or road traffic accidents.

Prevention of conduct disorder and juvenile delinquency.

It may not be possible for parents to prevent conduct disorder, but early recognition of the symptoms is very important. Early recognition and taking the child in for treatment will go a long way to preventing many of the complications. This means that juvenile delinquency, depression, anxiety, etc. can be prevented.

Treatment of conduct disorder.

Conduct disorder in about 70% of cases will resolve on their own without treatment. But for those that do not resolve, treatment is necessary. It is important to start the treatment early and not to wait to see if it will stop on its own. This will help in preventing complications.

What parents and teachers can do:

First of all, parents and teachers need to educate themselves about conduct disorder and delinquency. This can be done via social media, Google, books, etc.

There is need to teach the young child the dos and the don’ts. Teach the child how to talk quietly, say please, and thank you, and not to interrupt when someone is talking. Also teach the child how to clean up after food, and how to keep his/her hands to self. Teaching problem solving skills is very important, so as to reduce aggression.

There is need to set clear workable rules that are reasonable, fair and consistent. With these rules, parents and teachers should set limits and boundaries.

Let the child know ahead of time the consequences that will follow the breaking of the rules. These consequences must be consistent and the parents or teachers must remain calm during discipline. So do not be angry or anxious while meting out the disciplinary measures. But at the same time, do not allow the child to manipulate you not to discipline him or her. And do not give in to his/her demands.

When the child has behaved well, there is need to give rewards. These rewards can come as praise, token, etc.

The parents and teachers must be supportive and have a positive relationship with the child. So these adults must be available to the child and be ready to listen. And at the same time the home and school environments must be positive and stress free.  

The child must also be fully engaged not only with academics, but also have recreational time. This recreational time should be filled with the child engaging in either sports, music, church activities, etc. These recreational activities can help in preventing juvenile delinquency.

Consult a medical specialist:

The specialists include a clinical psychologist and a psychiatrist. The clinical psychologist will make use of different types of psychotherapy to treat the child. The family members are treated with family therapy. The family therapy will help parents make changes in how they function at home. This will include improving communication skills and family interactions.

The teachers and the school peers are also educated on the matter.  This will help them to interact better with the child.

The psychiatrist will treat the psychological or psychiatric issues that arise from the complications of conduct disorder. Medicines are used to treat depression, anxiety, etc.

The way forward.

It is important to know that placing children with juvenile delinquency in the same jail with adult criminals is counterproductive. Having understood how these children became delinquent, the best approach to handling them is rehabilitation treatment and not jailing. This will go a long way to prevent reoffending and adult criminality.

The clinical psychologist is consulted. The clinical psychologist will teach the child interpersonal skills, individual counseling and psychotherapy and behavioural programms. The psychiatrist should also be consulted when needed to treat mental illness complications.

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