Child Crime Prevention & Safety Center

Anxiety Disorders

Many young offenders in the juvenile justice system suffer from a number of anxiety disorders which affect their behavior and are often considered to contribute to their criminality. The following are some of the more common anxiety disorders observed in youthful offenders:

Panic Disorders

Children diagnosed with panic disorders often have at least a few episodes in which they have an unexpected attack that causes them to be extremely fearful without anything stimulating such feelings. Although panic disorders have not been studied in children as much in their adult counterparts, children frequently will experience many of the same symptoms that adults do during a panic episode.

The symptoms that are often experienced by children during a panic episode often include irregular heart palpitations, increased resting heart rate, uncontrollable shaking, shortness of breath, trouble breathing, chest discomfort, light-headedness, nausea, vomiting, and fear of death. Although it is difficult to distinguish a panic attack from other anxiety disorders, panic attacks usually reach maximum intensity after approximately five to ten minutes then begin to decline. Often these panic disorders cause children a great deal of embarrassment in school and ridicule by their peers. Because of these uncontrollable panic episodes, children often become isolated and distance themselves from their peers and begin to engage in anti-social behavior and self-medicate by abusing substances such as alcohol and drugs. In other instances, children engage in negative behavior in order to get negative attention to distract from there panic disorder which often results in disciplinary consequences.

Social Anxiety Disorders

School-aged children are often faced with signs of social anxiety disorders early on. These signs manifest themselves early on in a child’s school career when they are faced with the pressure of being called on by a teacher in class or when they are forced to engage in a social activity with other students. These various forms of social anxiety come from a common nucleus of a child’s fear of rejection, fear of being judged, or poor social performance. Children who suffer from social anxiety disorders become overly concerned with how others view them and they often fear to appear unintelligent or awkward. As a result, children who suffer from social anxiety disorders often disassociate themselves from their peers and engage in isolated activities. Children who suffer from social anxiety disorders are much more likely to engage in alcohol abuse and drug use at a very young age compared to their peers. This often leads to frequent contacts with law enforcement and often times leads to a path towards the juvenile justice system.

Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder

Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder more commonly known as OCD is evidenced by either a mental obsession to perform a routine in order to alleviate a feeling of apprehension. Children who are diagnosed with OCD are usually diagnosed before puberty in males and during the teenage years in females.

Some of the obsessions that children who suffer from OCD experience include: extreme concerns about hygiene, cleanliness, and aggressive impulses. The obsessions become problematic especially for school-aged children who often face harsh criticism from there peers. These excessive obsessions become a point of ridicule for those children suffering from OCD and in some instances end with physical altercations. Often this cycle of being teased and lashing out with aggressive impulses leads to run-ins with police and numerous behavioral problems if left untreated.

Due to the age of children, many of these anxiety disorders go either unnoticed or are simply dismissed as simple behavioral issues that are left untreated. However, when left untreated children suffering from these disorders are often written off by society as incapable of rehabilitation. Should the actions that these children engage in end up resulting in a referral to the juvenile justice system it is unlikely that they will ever be properly diagnosed and treated for their disorders.