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At one time or another most children and adolescents act out or do things that are destructive or troublesome to themselves or others. Only if such behavior persists, it is indicative of conduct disorder.
Those in whom this behavior persists may be candidates for psychological help. It is estimated that 5 percent of children show serious conduct problems, being described as impulsive, overactive, and aggressive and engaging in delinquent behavior. Some motives for such behavior are genetic inheritance of a difficult temperament, ineffective parenting, and living in a neighborhood in which violence is common. There is a lack of consensus on what actually works, despite considerable efforts made to help children with conduct disorders.
A closely linked behavior is juvenile delinquency. This term refers to an adolescent's tendency to break the law or to engage in illicit behavior, a broad concept that ranges from littering to murder. According to U.S. government statistics, eight of ten cases of juvenile delinquency involve males. However, in the last two decades there has been a greater increase in female than male delinquency.
Juvenile delinquency has been found to vary among cultures. Delinquency rates among minority groups and lower-socioeconomic-status-youth are especially high in proportion to the overall population of these groups. However, such groups have less influence over the judicial decision-making process in the United States and may be judged delinquent more readily than their white counterparts and those of higher socioeconomic status. Some suggested causes of delinquency are heredity, identity problems, community influences, and family experiences.
Although delinquency is less exclusively a phenomenon of lower socioeconomic status than it has been in the past, some characteristics of lower-socioeconomic-class cultures may promote delinquency. It is a complex problem, but psychologists have found factors which may predict whether a youth is likely to turn violent. Violent youths are overwhelmingly male and driven by feelings of powerlessness. Ill-directed drives for power often motivate youth especially toward acts of violence.