A degree of unruly behaviour in children and youth is developmentally appropriate, such as the wailing toddler and the door-slamming teenager. However, when unruly behaviour becomes frequent and persistent in children and youth, then the behaviour may no longer be developmentally appropriate. The behaviour sometimes results in a diagnosis of oppositional defiant disorder or conduct disorder. However, there are some reasons to believe that children and young people displaying this behaviour do not have a mental disorder but are badly behaved, so this is not a matter for the healthcare system.
In this paper I ask when unruly behaviour warrants a mental health diagnosis and what this tells us about the role of the healthcare system. This consideration has importance for the treatment of children and youth, and for how we understand the mental health of children and young people.