Family Dynamics and Adolescent Conduct Disorders Among Nigerian Secondary School Students

1 January 2017

Interest in children who have conduct disorders has heightened in recent years because of the significant increase in the prevalence of deviant behaviour among students. Conduct disorder is a repetitive and persistent pattern of behaviour in which the basic rights of others or major age-appropriate societal norms or rules are violated (American Psychological Association, 2000).

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In Nigeria, students with conduct disorders engage in deviant behaviours such as aggression, peer cruelty, fighting, bullying or threatening others, pilfering, rioting, stealing, truancy, substance abuse, raping, smoking, lateness, falsification of results, violation of rules and regulations, assault of both students and teachers, vandalisation of school property, sexual offences and even murder (Okonkwo, 2001; Iheanacho, 2001; Udochukwu, 2001; Kemjika & Woruka 1998; & Ogoke, 1990).

According to Anokam (2002), the prevalence of conduct disorder among Nigerian adolescents has increased in the last three years in terms of frequency of recorded delinquent crimes and number of adolescents involved. Okonkwo, Ezeani and Nwagbo (1999) also reported that 60% of persons arrested in Nigeria for crimes of violence, armed robbery, substance abuse, and arson were juveniles.

Cult activities remain near their highest rate with the well-publicised occurrences of multiple killings, robbery, maiming, raping and destruction of properties in many institutions of higher learning. These reports make one to wonder about the causative factors. A synthesis of theories of family influences indicates that families exert a major influence on children’s personal development (Grolnick, Kourowski, & Gurland, 1999).

This is not surprising given the number of hours young children spend with their families each day. Given that the family lays the foundation for socialisation and stabilisation of adult personality (Ekwonwa, 2001), and parents have the primary responsibility of raising and teaching their children appropriate behaviours and social skills, a closer look at the importance of family dynamics such as relationship between parents, family structure, and parenting style, and birth order in conduct disorder is imperative.

Again, a review of recent literature on conduct disorders among students (Anokam, 2002; Kalgo, 2001; Fiberesima, 2001; Agulanna, 1998; Astor, 1994; Sigel, & Senna, 1995) tends to suggest that family dynamics [the different forces that students interact with in their families] influence students’ conduct. For instance children who have been exposed to marital conflicts between parents are likely to manifest problems, such as higher levels of physical aggression, depression, as well as long term difficulties in trusting others and maintaining intimate relationships.

Forehand, Biggar & Kotchick, (1998); Hetherington, (1999); and Astor, (1994) in studies of aggressive and non-aggressive children, opine that violent children may have been the recipients of considerable physical and psychological aggression in their own lives which eventually led to deviant behaviours later in life. Linked also with students’ conduct disorders is inadequate parenting.

Negative relationships with parents are associated with adolescent’s association with deviant peers (Ary, Duncan, Duncan, & Hops, 1999), lower self esteem, less sophisticated social skills, and an inability to establish and maintain peer relationships later in life (Kim, Conger, Lorenz, & Elder, 2001). Straus, & Yodanis, (1996) and Collins, Laursen, Mortensen, Luebker, & Ferreira, (1997), have also associated violence and aggression towards others with faulty parenting styles. Baumrind (1967) had classified parents as exhibiting one of three parenting styles: authoritarian, authoritative, and permissive.

Authoritarian and permissive parenting styles are said to produce children who are overly aggressive with others (Conger, Conger, & Scaramella, 1997); and engage in delinquent acts as adolescents (Lamborn, Mounts, Steinber, & Dornbusch, (1991). They are defiant, impulsive and lack social skills and self control (Eggen & Kauchak, 2004). Children, whose parents are detached, coerce them or fail to provide consistent discipline and supervision are apparently more likely to develop conduct disorders (Phares, 2003; Biederman, Mick, Faranone, & Burback, 2001; Patterson 1996).

Conduct disorders are also more likely to exist where parents lack warmth; are highly critical and unpredictably administer harsh physical punishment (Bishop, Murphy, Hicks, Quinn, Lewis, Grace, & Jellinek, 2001; Webster-Stratton & Hammond, 1999). In addition, Alfred Adler in his individual psychology was particularly interested in the kinds of early family influences that predispose the child to faulty lifestyle. He observed that the personalities of the oldest, middle and youngest child in a family were likely to be quite different and attributed this to the distinctive experiences that each child has as a member of the family.

The youngest child, he said is the spoilt and pampered child and is likely to become maladjusted in the society. Pampered, they expect society to conform to their self-centred wishes and where society fails, they become destructive. Adler considered them to be potentially, the most dangerous class in the society. From the foregoing and considering the cross-cultural implications of these issues, finding out the family variables germane to conduct disorder in Nigerian secondary school students is crucial.

Review of the literature and clinical experience generated three hypotheses for this study: 1. Family structure is not a significant factor in conduct disorders of secondary school students. 2. Parenting style is not a significant factor in conduct disorders of secondary school students. 3. Birth order is not a significant factor in conduct disorders of secondary school students. This survey was designed to identify the family variables relevant to conduct disorder in Nigerian secondary school students.

The sample consisted of 400 students drawn from a target population of thirty four thousand, three hundred and forty nine (34,349) students in the forty (40) secondary schools in old Owerri Local Government Area of Imo State. The subjects were from 30 schools randomly selected. Records of the school counsellors and disciplinary committees in these schools were consulted to identify those students with conduct disorders.

These two records gave comprehensive reports of the students’ behaviour. 00 conduct disordered students – age ranged from 13 to 19 – who had documented record of having been involved in at least two incidents of conduct misbehaviour were eventually selected. All subjects were informed of the purpose of the study and they participated voluntarily. There was no random sampling as most of the identified students were used for the study. In addition, approximately seven students with no records of deviant behaviour were randomly selected from each of the thirty schools used for the study.

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