Teen Rebellion: Why Do They Rebel And How To Deal With It?

Teen Rebellion: Why Do They Rebel And How To Deal With It?

Until a few years ago, the child was sweet, obedient and helpful. But now when she is 15 years old, things have all changed with her. She answers back to you, hardly helps you out at home, and is bent upon breaking every home rule that you set for her.

Teen rebellion is something most parents face – some in mild while some in its severest form. As a teen, you too might have had your share of defiance with your parents. But as a parent, you would want to know how to handle a teen rebel, especially when they get out of control.

MomJunction tells you why teenagers rebel, and how parents can face it.

What Is Teenage Rebellion?

Teenage rebellion is an act of highest assertion of independence and little adherence to parental advice during the teen years of a child’s life. It is called a “rebellion” because it leads to an intense confrontation between the teen and their parents. Teenage rebellion may seem spontaneous and illogical for parents, but there are several underlying reasons behind the behavior.

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Why Do Teens Become Rebellious?

There are multiple reasons behind the rebellion during the teenage years (1) (2):

  1. The desire to be independent: Teens are somewhere between being an adult and a kid. The in-between phase causes a surge in motivation to change the status quo. The urge to be independent leads to increased defiance to rules, and not listening to parents.
  1. Heightened differences with parents: The rules that they have been following since their childhood, seem to be suffocating now. They question the rationale behind such rules and feel that the rules are curtailing their freedom. A teen might like things that are “cool” for their generation, but might be disapproved of by the parent.
  1. Impulsive decisions: Experts state that teens are prone to making impulsive choices. A teenager’s judgment can be overridden by the desire to seek thrill and encounter exciting experiences. It can cloud the discretionary thought process, which may eventually make them violate rules, and ignore risks in favor of rewards (3).
  1. Peer pressure: The teenage brain lays greater emphasis on the opinion of their peer groups so that they can feel a sense of belonging in those groups. A teen might want to do things to please the peers even if parents are against it.
  1. A change in the brain structure: Researchers note that the connections between the neurons of the brain do not develop completely until the mid 20s (1). The effect is compounded by the impact of puberty on the brain. An immature neural structure with the constant change in the brain design impacts their decision-making, leading to a rebellious behavior.
  1. Hormonal changes: A mixture of hormones pumping through a teenager can cause a drastic change in the thought process. For instance, the production of testosterone in boys during teen years is ten times more than what they once had (1). Sex hormones have a significant impact on the brain functions and may have effects on essential neurotransmitters leading to problems with mood and demeanor.

The word ‘rebellion’ sounds all negative but with teenagers, it is an important part of the developmental process.

[ Read: Causes Of Teen Stress ]

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Positive effects of Teenage Rebellion

Here is how teenage rebellion can have some positive impact:

  1. Teens can openly express their opinion to parents. A teen is more likely to have a dialogue with the parent to understand a rule instead of following it blindly. It means you can have some mature conversation with the teen.
  1. Makes them be independent in situations. Some rebellions lead to independence for good reasons. For example, resisting the parent’s help in packing their bags and doing it all by themselves is a big help to the parents!
  1. Teaches elements of appropriate social behavior. If the teen never rebel, they would never have an opportunity to learn from their own mistakes.
  1. Makes a teen feel like a grown up. Teens are on the path of becoming adults. A healthy rebellion for good reasons can make the teen think like an adult behave responsiblye.
  1. Bolsters self-confidence. Maybe a bit of rebellion was all the teen needs to develop a strong sense of self and be more assertive and confident.

Healthy teen rebellion is surely a desirable scenario. But it is the negative teenage rebellion, which you need to deal with as a parent.

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How To Deal With A Rebellious Teenager?

It may be annoying to see your child rebel against you. But you can face it with these simple measures (4):

1. Stay calm:

  • Teenagers are still children. Do not get flabbergasted if you do not see reasons for their rebellion.
  • Be calm and use a polite tone to ask what’s on their mind.
  • Display a non-aggressive body language, expression, and show a genuine concern in your voice.

[ Read: Conflict Resolution Skills For Teenagers ]

2. Set appropriate limit::

  • Punishments do not work the same way as they once did when your teen was a young kid. A teen can get aggressive and may even try doing wrong things deliberately to display defiance.
  • Do not slap a teen, lock them in a room or stop them from eating their favorite food as a punishment.

3. Have respectful conversation as a friend:

  • You have been through teenage years too! Think how teens would think and put yourself in their shoes for a while. It will help you use the right words, phrases, and sentences.
  • Cut down authoritarian phrases (“I am your dad, and I know better so listen.”), instead use relaxed sentences (“Hey buddy, I am your dad and know a thing or two more. Let’s have a chat”).
  • A combination of nonchalant language and calm tone can help soften the rebellious teen.

4. Explain your intentions:

  • Your teen will not understand your rules unless you tell them the reason behind them. For instance, if you forbid your teen from attending late night parties, then tell them that you do so because you fear such parties could be places for illicit activities like underage drinking and smoking, and narcotics use.
  • Take the conversation forward and explain how these habits can have an impact on the lives of  teens and even their families. Use examples if needed.
  • The teenager may better understand the logic behind rules and instructions if you respectfully explain acquaint them to the negative consequences of doing things that are wrong.
  • Most important, take time to listen to their perspective on the situation

5. Come with a win-win solution:

  • Discussing limits with your teen does not mean that you have to bend to their demands.
  • Come up with a solution to the problem. Think of a plan that works for both of you. Say words like “Okay, I will allow you to go for an outing, but on one condition.” It will help the teen feel that you are accommodative and are not just ordering them to do things. In a similar way to parenting a toddler, teens feel more in control when choices are offered.

Having a systematic, step-by-step approach to the teen’s rebellion, where you take time to calm the situation and make space for listening, is the best way to cool down the situation.But sometimes both you and your teen have gotten so angry and upset that the conversation spirals out of control

[ Read: Teen Drug Abuse ]

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How To Know If Teenage Rebellion Has Gone Out Of Hand?

Here are some signs that the rebellion has overshot its limits:

  1. Prolonged display of annoyance and aggression towards parents or other family members.
  1. Change in attitude. Less interaction with family members.
  1. Always giving short and rude answers.
  1. Open defiance even when outdoors or deliberately doing things asked not to be done.
  1. Having no qualms about indulging in risky behavior activities like tobacco usage and alcohol consumption.

Speak to your child using the steps mentioned in the previous section. Use your intuition. Experts state that if the behavior of the child seems concerning to the parents, then it probably is concerning (5). There is nothing wrong in consulting a doctor or psychologist.

However,try not to get to that point. Take enough steps to prevent such unpleasant scenarios.

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How To Prevent Teenage Rebellion?

You may not completely avoid teenage rebellion but you can prevent it from reaching extremes:

  1. Set firm yet reasonable rules. For instance, allow your teenager’s friends to visit your place for video games and pizza. But set a rule that the teen cleans the room after the friends leave. Make rules that are win-win, rules that respect the teen’s new-found independence yet allow you to prevent things from getting out of control.
  1. Have a conversation instead of argument Implement a rule by striking a conversation and not by dictating it. Make rules that do not bind the teen so much that they feel pressed into testing harsh limits.
  1. Have reasonable consequences. If the teen breaks the rule, then they must have a penalty. For example, if the teen does not clean up their room after having a video game party with their friends, then they do not get to attend the next party. Discuss with your teen the best way of setting consequences so that both can have a peace of mind.
  1. Praise good behavior.Appreciate the moments when the teen does something right. For instance, say some good words when the teen cleans the room on their own without being told. Compliment them with a smile and words that indicate that you genuinely appreciate their efforts.
  1. Praise is the best reward but sometimes material rewards can also be used.You may allow them to have an ice cream treat or buy a new dress.
  1. Give your teen space and privacy. It is okay for teens to gossip on the phone with their friends and spend extra time with them after school hours. If your teen follows all the other rules, then it is okay for them to have time for themselves. Do not always point out these things because it can upset them and turn them rebellious.
  1. Share knowledge and resources. Tell teens how getting rebellious due to peer pressure can have adverse outcomes. Acquaint them with the dangers of underage alcohol and tobacco usage. Calmly explain to them how such things are not worth fighting with parents. Give the teen resources to decline offers to smoke or drink. It will help resist peer pressure.
  1. Most important is to take time to listen to your teen and hear their perspective. They will be more likely to listen to you if they feel that you value listening to them.

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A teenage rebel is a cause of anxiety to their parents. You feel as if there is no end to the arguments and quarrels you have with them and the situation may seem hopeless. But keep your cool while dealing with such behavior and lay the foundation for a healthy relationship with your teen.

[ Read: How To Handle A Narcissistic Teenage ]

What is your take on teen rebellion? Do let us know your thoughts in the comment section below.


MomJunction's articles are written after analyzing the research works of expert authors and institutions. Our references consist of resources established by authorities in their respective fields. You can learn more about the authenticity of the information we present in our editorial policy.


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Claudia M. Gold

Claudia M. Gold is a pediatrician and writer who practiced pediatrics for over 20 years and currently specializes in infant-parent mental health. She is on the faculty of the Infant-Parent Mental Health Fellowship Program at University of Massachusetts Boston, the Brazelton Institute at Boston Children’s Hospital, and the Berkshire Psychoanalytic Institute. She has written 4 books: The Power of Discord... more

Sagari Gongala

Sagari was a math graduate and studied counseling psychology in postgraduate college, which she used to understand people better. Her interest in reading about people made her take up articles on kids and their behavior. She was meticulous in her research and gave information that could be of help to parents in times of need. An animal lover, vegan, and... more