There's a theory about teens -- if your teen was heck on wheels as a two-year-old, you can expect a bumpy ride beginning 11 years later. In a biological sense, this behavior is natural. But that doesn’t mean it’s good, or healthy, or tolerable. There are strategies to counter this recent disobedient streak you see in your teen. And no, you don’t have to revert to the spanking and time-outs of the “terrible-twos” phase.
1. A Biological Consequence
You might not be surprised to learn that the rebellious period most teens go through is natural: it’s biological, in fact. The teen years change the physiology of a child, both hormonally and mentally. The drive for new activities comes from the flood of hormones; the relative inability to control that drive comes from an underdeveloped brain. As a result, attempts at logical explanations for reasons to or not to do something tend to be lost on teens. Citing fact after fact to your teen about how early sexual experiences can have lasting and potentially negative effects on his future does little to reduce his drive to do so or little to strengthen his ability to control himself. So frustrated parents should relax: disobedience is as normal in teens as armpit hair is.
2. Emotion’s Role
Emotions precede many actions in teens, just as they do in adults. The difference is that adults tend to add logic to the equation, thinking about their actions prior to acting, while teens -- due to an as-yet-underdeveloped frontal lobe -- have difficulty thinking logically when their brains are swamped with feelings. As a parent, you can be the moderator between a teen’s emotions and actions. Be ready to recognize when your teen is emotionally charged and therefore liable to do something rebellious. Don’t be afraid to bring these emotions into a conversation. When you initiate such a conversation, you force your teen to think about how she feels and how she will act on these feelings. From there, you can help her come up with solutions. For example, you might begin a conversation with something like, “I know you feel stressed out. And when people are stressed out, they tend to make poor decisions. Let’s talk about what you plan to do with this stress before you actually do anything.”
3. Understanding the Teen World
Many parents believe they understand the teen world. After all, you were once a teen yourself, right? But thinking you understand teenagers and actually understanding your teen -- an individual person going through an individualized experience -- are two different things. Psychologist Michael Riera, who authored the book “Uncommon Sense for Parents with Teenagers,” says that believing you already understand what it's like for your teenager can be an obstruction to open communication. Teens like to believe they are going through a unique experience, and indeed they often are. And because parental authority only exists when teens are willing to communicate, which involves listening on your part as well, if you close the communication lines by being a know-it-all, discipline and obedience fly out the window.
4. Parenting Style
Disobedience is not always the fault of the teen. In some cases, the family parenting style can mold a teen into being a rebel. Cornell University’s Kimberly Kopko, researcher of parenting and author of the article “Parenting Styles and Adolescence,” points out that certain parenting styles commonly lead to certain behavioral problems in teens. For disobedience, these parenting styles are the permissive and dismissive parenting styles, two styles characterized by parental willingness to give into most of a child’s demands. If you are answering “yes” to most of your teen’s requests, you might be using one of these styles, indirectly conditioning your child to have an entitlement mentality. A teen who isn’t used to hearing “no” is unlikely to obey a parent’s rules or requests.
- Pubertal Hormones Organize the Adolescent Brain and Behavior; Cheryl Sisk and Juila Zehr
- Raising an Emotionally Intelligent Child; John Gottman
- Uncommon Sense for Parents with Teenagers; Michael Riera
- Parenting Styles and Adolescents; Kimberly Kopko
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