Think back to your teen years. Remember plenty of yelling and slamming doors? Most people do. Unfortunately, teenage rebellion is a rite of passage for many kids. But it's hard for parents to deal with because it thwarts their attempts to provide structure, guidance and supervision. It can also lead to serious kinds of harm, such as self-defeating and self-destructive behavior, and extreme risk taking. As irritating and, even frightening, as teenage rebellion can be, guiding your kids through this tumultuous time will help them build the independence they need to stand on their own two feet.
Teens rebel because they have a need to separate themselves from mom and dad to establish their own independent identity. As much as it is caused by a need for independence, Carl Pickhardt, Ph.D., writing for Psychology Today, asserts that rebellion is actually an act of dependency, as kids define themselves and their behavior by doing the opposite of what others want. According to Pickhardt, early adolescent rebels (those between ages 9 and 13) try to shed their childish identity and create a more mature self-definition. Older teens often rebel because they want to differentiate themselves from parents and peers to build their own identity, and they actually seek opposition to enhance their own self-determination.
Independence from Parents
Pickhardt describes one type of teenage rebellion as non-compliance, or rebellion against adult authority. Teens try to assert their independence by pushing back against the adults, such as parents, teachers and coaches, who, in their view, control them. To assert individuality, they may do the opposite of what parents like or want, thus provoking disapproval. Younger teens might rebel when they feel they are treated "like a baby" or unable to have the freedoms they feel they deserve. Older teens rebel when they feel like adults are trying to control them or make them conform to expectations other than their own.
According to KidsHealth, during the teen years, kids become more aware of how others see them. Some try desperately to fit in, and others engage in a type of rebellion that Pickhardt calls non-conformity, or rebellion against society. They begin to experiment with different looks and identities, and they become very aware of how they differ from peers. For a teen, part of developing her own identity is finding which peer group she feels comfortable in, and, for some, this might be a group of "outsiders" or a complete rejection of them all.
What to Do About It
One solution, according to Pickhardt, is creating true independence by offering kids challenges. The teenager who is engaged in a challenge with parents who support him doesn't need rebellion to transform or redefine him. Parents should also remember that rebellion is not really against them; it is only acted out against them. Rather than acting in anger and pushing back harder, encourage your teen to put her feelings into words, since letting her have her say will create some feeling of independence. Pickhardt also recommends allowing natural consequences to occur, while providing constant positive guidance. Keep communicating your family's values and expectations while giving your teen positive direction, even when you think he's not listening. Try to make your voice drown out the voices of his peers. Always remain empathetic, calm and ready to listen. As your teen gets older, allow more independence while expecting increased responsibility. KidsHealth recommends giving your teen room to be an individual within the rules of your family. Pick your battles; let your kids experiment with things that are temporary and harmless, and put your foot down on issues that really matter, like drugs and alcohol.