Thursday, January 24, 2008

Predicting Anti-Social Behavior In Children Before Its Too Late


In New Zealand, measures are being taken to screen very young children for the earliest hints of what they call "antisocial" behavior. They will begin searching for children between the ages of 3 and 7 who show signs of antisocial behavior such as being violent, or refusing to follow directions. The children identified as having antisocial behavior will be kids whose problems are especially severe, not who have typical behaviors such as temper tantrums.
Children who are identified will then receive intervention. Training courses for parents will be included in the intervention, as well as courses for the children's teachers. Children will be taught positive behaviors to help them make friends, deal with emotions, get along at home, and succeed in school.
The concept is that if antisocial behavior in children is caught, and dealt with, when children are still very young, their behavior won't have time to spiral out of control. This will prevent them from growing up to have life problems that adults with antisocial behavior often deal with, such as depression, alcohol and drug use, and the inability to form relationships with others.
Critics of the plan say that it is unhealthy to start labeling children when they are so young. But supporters say that saving children from having much more severe problems later in life is worth any problems that might be caused by labeling.
Personally, I've always hated the term "antisocial", and I think that term would probably prevent a lot of parents from bringing their children in to be screened. The term "antisocial" reminds people of "antisocial personality disorder," which will make parents think they are raising the next Ted Bundy!
I am not sure if a similar screening process exists in the USA. I wasn't able to find any information about programs that exist, although I did find some information about theories of the benefits of a screening program! I know that here in the USA, public schools are required to provide outreach services to identify children with special needs who aren't yet being served by the school system, but I don't know if those outreach programs include behavioral problems, or if they just screen for things like autism, learning disorders,etc. If anyone else knows anything more about this, I'd be interested in hearing!

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