Teenage rebellions are almost synonymous with adolescence. Rebellious behaviour can begin as early as 9 years old, peaking at 12-14 years old, and last until 17-18 years old. It’s a phase many parents dread, perhaps wishing they could fast-forward from the innocent and obedient childhood days straight to adulthood. And while we can’t do that, there are ways in which you can manage teenage rebellions while forming a healthy parent-teen relationship. To do so it’s firstly important to understand why teenage rebellions happen. Let’s take a look…
The role of brain development and teenage rebellion
Adolescence is a time when the frontal cortex of the brain starts to develop; this is the area of the brain associated with decision making. It is only natural, therefore, that teens will start to seek the freedom to make their own decisions and choices. These decisions will not necessarily align with what their parents want and thus give rise to the potential for conflict.
Teenage rebellion or developing a new sense of identity?
The teenage years are also a time when people start to develop a sense of identity. This may not always be in line with your expectations for them as parents. It may mean that they start to dress differently, style their hair differently, develop new passions or forgo those of their parents (for example, a teen brought up in a sports-centric household may have no interest in sport, and instead want to pursue more artistic outlets). While this may not be what you expected or wanted, it’s important not to criticise or mock these developments. Doing so will only create conflict and drive a wedge between you and your teen.
Teenage Peer Pressure and the need to fit in
Peer Pressure, or at least, the need for the teen to ‘fit in’ with their friends/classmates, can be a significant factor in teenage rebellion too. Remember, adolescence is a time when people start to spend less time with their own family (as they might have done as a young child) and more with their peers. This has many positive benefits, of course. However, the risk arises that they will want to pursue dangerous or sometimes even illegal activities, out of a desire to fit in. This can give rise to conflict and rebellion. For example, if most of a teen’s classmates are engaging in underage drinking, the teen may well feel left out if they don’t follow suit. Throw in a parent telling them not to drink or attend a party, and the seeds for conflict and rebellion are sewn. Of course, in this instance, you are right to voice your concerns, but is there a way to avoid this? This is where empathy comes in…
Teenage rebellion can sometimes be a form of attention-seeking
We all need attention, and a teen going through turbulent hormonal, brain and body changes is certainly no exception. Sometimes, teens who aren’t receiving sufficient attention may act out. Worse still, they may seek it from less desirable people who don’t have their best interests in mind but are happy to manipulate an attention-starved teenager. That’s not to say that your teen should always be the centre of attention, nor should we necessarily reward attention-seeking behaviour. However, parents need to be mindful of their teen’s attention needs; this might be particularly problematic if you’re constantly working late or have a lot of other children to attend to (or perhaps one other child who needs a lot of special attention). It’s not always easy, but try your best to make sure your teen never feels left out, neglected or like they’re not as important as their sibling(s).
The role of empathy in dealing with teenage rebellion.
As with many conflicts in life, empathy can be key to helping to dissolve the conflict of teenage rebellion. Rather than simply lecture your teen on not drinking, it is far better to calmly explain your concerns. Honesty helps too, perhaps you could tell them of an incident where you engaged in underage drinking at their age and things escalated badly. Show them that, rather than talking down to them, you’re trying to help them avoid making a big mistake. Show them that, you too, are human and flawed.
Be firm but kind when it comes to quashing a teenage rebellion
There may be times when you simply have to lay down the law if you find a teenage rebellion is getting out of hand, particularly if it’s likely to lead to risky or illegal behaviour. You will need to be firm, even if it puts you in the perceived position of “being the bad guy”. Kindness is key. Never mock or belittle your teenager, try to avoid raising your voice. Explain to them why you are forbidding them from a certain activity, and that you have their best interests at heart. Be prepared that the teen may sulk or resent you for letting them do what they want, but don’t retaliate. Continue to treat them with kindness even if they are sulking etc.
Be sure to acknowledge your teen’s good behaviour
Parenting a teenager doesn’t have to be a constant battle. Just as you might call them out on bad behaviour, be sure to recognise and occasionally reward their good behaviour. And while it’s important not to make them feel like they’re only as good as their successes, be sure to acknowledge their achievements when they happen.
To conclude, teenage rebellions are a normal part of adolescence, their occurrence should not be alarming in and of itself. It is, however, important to be cognisant of why they can occur and your reaction towards them. With appropriate handling, this phase will eventually pass and can develop a good relationship with your teen that lasts into adulthood. However, if you do feel like you are struggling, please do get in touch with me and we can schedule an appointment.