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Teen with ODD

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Teen with ODD

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I have a 16 year old son with OD. He's very bright, but says no to everything you ask him to do. Punches holes in our walls, fights with twin brother with ADHD. He's on the verge of failing year 11 because he won't do the work, even though he is smart. We feel like we have tried anything and would appreciate any advice or help

That sounds like a really challenging situation, no wonder you are finding it tough! Even without the complications of ODD, parenting teens of that age can often be a difficult time as most teens will push boundaries and break rules as part of developing their independence. Since Oppositional Defiant Disorder (ODD) involves a pattern of disruptive and defiant behaviour, this can really amplify the challenges.

There are a few things which are often helpful when dealing with disruptive behaviour associated with ODD. You have probably already tried some of these, but hopefully something will sound worth giving a go at the moment.

It’s important that all of you have a shared understanding of what the responsibilities, rules and limits for behaviour are, as well as the consequences for breaking rules. It’s particularly important given your son’s age that he be given the opportunity to be involved in developing these limits and rules (ideally the whole family would work these out together). While this doesn’t mean he won’t still break rules, involving him in the process models cooperative behaviour, encourages him to take responsibility and will reduce his level of uncertainty.

If you’ve developed rules and responsibilities before, but they haven’t changed in a while, it’s important to review regularly, to see how well they are working for the family.

As part of this, think about what areas are most important to address (for instance, punching walls and fighting with his brother), and if there are areas where it is possible to compromise. If you decide to let some behaviours go, then it’s important to genuinely let these things go, and not let frustrations about small things build up and impact how you interact with your son.

You’re probably feeling pretty frustrated and even angry at times. This is okay - it’s normal to feel angry when someone is rude or aggressive or hostile. It also provides an opportunity to model how to cope with anger and frustration for your son - for instance, you could do this by taking a moment and stepping back if you’re about to react in a way which will make the situation more tense.

Something which happens very often when someone is displaying challenging behaviours is that you might be having more interactions with your son which have a negative focus (dealing with him breaking a rule, asking him to do something, etc) than positive interactions. This is really normal when someone is frequently argumentative or hostile. But, over time it can also make things stressful for all of you. It’s useful to make an effort to notice the times when things are a little better, and acknowledge the efforts he is making, or the things he is doing well.

The behaviour you describe certainly can be more common with ODD. However, it’s also worth considering whether there is anything else happening for your son which might be making life tough for him at the moment, and causing him to lash out - for instance, coping with a difficult situation (which could be related to school or a relationship) or depression. The strategies above will still be relevant, but checking in with your son about how he feels things have been going at the moment might give you some insight here (or he might not want to tell you - that’s okay, simply asking in a genuine and caring way helps keeps the communication going, even if he doesn’t want to respond for now).

If you don’t currently have any professional help, this is something to think about, as they will be able to provide support which is more tailored to your son. If he’s willing to see someone himself, he could likely benefit from counselling that is focused on building skills to deal with frustrations and anxieties, and help him problem solve. This can be really helpful with ODD.

Family counselling would be another option which can be really effective, as it can help teens feel less ‘targeted’ as it's more about working on how the family as a whole communicates and works together, which can help support your son to change behaviour, as well as enabling you to feel confident in how to manage these challenges.

However, I do know that often teens are pretty reluctant to see someone. Even if he’s not willing to see someone, consider seeing someone yourself to provide support. I'd recommend looking for someone with experience working with families and with ODD, so that they can coach you regarding how to respond in a way which will be most helpful, and also help you manage the stress you are under due to the situation.


Best wishes,


Linda is a psychologist experienced in working with people across the lifespan, including teenagers and their families, in a variety of settings, and is ReachOut's Clinical Lead.



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Re: Teen with ODD

Hi @BarleyHangingOn , just to let you know that Linda, our clinical lead who is an experienced psychologist, has also written a response about your son. I hope you find this helpful, thinking of you. 


@Allanah  I also thought this post may be useful for you, I'm sorry to hear that you are having such a tough time with your son.