What are Externalizing Behaviors?

These are answers reflected outwardly to the issues a student has challenges addressing. These kinds of problems include antisocial and disruptive forms of behavior. Some examples are students disobeying rules and disturbing the class, stealing, cursing, fighting, defiance, vandalizing school property, threatening others, getting involved in underage drinking, running away from home, and showing physical aggression. Externalizing behaviors may also include relational aggression through hurtful words, gestures, and statements, like name-calling and spreading rumors.

Such problem behaviors are responses to the external environment. Students with externalizing behaviors fail to express their negative emotions or responses to life pressures in a productive or healthy way. Instead, they direct their feelings outward to other things or people. These students are usually troubled or facing other challenges in their lives and fall back on externalizing behaviors as their coping mechanism. 

For instance, some students may have personality disorders, mental illnesses, or learning disabilities. They take refuge in problem behaviors to divert attention from the fact that they’re having learning problems. For such students, being reprimanded by the teacher or kicked out of class may appear preferable to having their learning difficulties or disabilities exposed.

Birth complications, poor parenting, social adversity (like teenage pregnancy), or maternal rejection (such as a negative attitude to pregnancy) could also predispose students to externalized behavior problems. Biological risk factors too can trigger such behaviors. At the pre/perinatal stage, these include both maternal pathophysiological and genetic factors that may obstruct fetal growth and development. Examples of such factors include illness during pregnancy, maternal malnutrition, using alcohol and drugs during pregnancy, smoking, and a genetic predisposition to externalizing behavior from both parents. 

Thus, smoking during pregnancy that directly affects the central nervous system can cause enhanced externalizing behavior in the offspring. Compared to girls, boys are more prone to show obvious externalized behaviors like physical bullying. However, on the whole, aggression levels are similar between the sexes.

For students, externalizing behaviors can have serious consequences. On a mild level, they can invite teachers’ notes about the student’s disorderly conduct in class. However, they may escalate to school suspension, detention, or even expulsion. Since some schools have zero-tolerance policies toward bullying, drug use, or weapons, students engaging in these externalizing behaviors may find themselves being forced to leave school. Some with externalizing behaviors may even get arrested for assault, vandalism, or theft, which could signal the beginning of a lengthy and challenging journey in the criminal justice system if the behaviors aren’t corrected.

Whatever be the cause triggering students to show externalizing behaviors, it’s vital to reduce the risk factors and get professional help and intervention. Intervention approaches involving effective parenting, better prenatal care, or better social service can help reduce the risk factors associated with externalizing behaviors. Therapy, counseling, and evaluation for a learning disorder or disability are other steps to correct such behaviors. Parents should talk to their child’s school administrator or teacher to seek help or go to a licensed medical professional. The key is to identify, confront, and correct externalizing behaviors to bring students back on the right track.

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