Attention: parents of rebellious teenagers! How many of the following questions have you asked
- -Why does everything I try only push him away further?
- -What happened to my polite, respectful little girl?
- -Why does he take pleasure in pushing as many of my buttons as possible?
- -Why won’t she listen to me?
- -Why does he treat me that way in spite of the way I raised him?
- -Why can’t she see the obvious, real-life consequences of her actions?
In case all of these questions are familiar to you, don’t fret. You’re not alone. In fact, data suggests that you’ve probably done most things right as a parent. At the same time, it’s unrealistic to expect yourself to be some semblance of a perfect parent (whatever that’s supposed to mean). Perfect parents don’t produce perfect kids because there’s no such thing as either. We’re all imperfect. Life makes sure of that.
Living in a home with teens, however, parents often feel like they’re suddenly living on a different planet and that their children have been possessed by the spirit of rebelliousness and defiance.
There is certainly an aspect of natural biology and maturation at work when teens exhibit insubordinate and headstrong behavior. However, as parents, we shouldn’t be so quick to chock up our children’s disobedience to broad mindsets like “boys will be boys” or “she’ll grow out of it.
It’s part of their development
There’s a section of the human brain called the pre-frontal cortex who’s function is to control “personality expression, decision making, and moderating social behavior”. Our teen years are the time where we begin to really practice using this section of our brain in the real world which leads to criticizing, arguing, testing boundaries, and ultimately understanding and (hopefully) getting a grip on our decision-making process. In a very real sense, we must let our teens make their own mistakes so they can experience consequences and more fully develop their pre-frontal cortex.
We’re always learning, not just when we’re small children.
They’re responding to parent’s predictability
Individual parents are usually quite predictable in their reactions to certain situations. We each have adopted a style or system of parenting that often becomes automatic, in a sense, and our kids know this better than we do. They know just what we’re going to say when they make a particular decision, especially if they’ve made that decision before. Our attempts at discipline often become white noise to our teenagers, especially for parents who have a history of not following through.
Teenagers often find their parents to be boring, and this is one the main reasons why. Try surprising your teenager with a compliment or with an unusual (for you) conversation topic.
Do something out of the ordinary in your interactions with them and see how they respond differently.
They feel trapped
You’ve probably heard the term “helicopter parent”. It’s a phrase that has actually made it into the dictionary with the following definition: “a parent who takes an overprotective or excessive interest in the life of their child or children”.
I know that as parents we all mean well when it comes to providing the best life we know how for our kids, but there’s a difference between protection and overprotection. Our teenagers need freedom enough to foster experiences that prepare them for the real world after they’re out of the house. But if parents create an extensive list of family and house rules that cross over into the realm of overprotection, children – especially teenagers – typically do not respond to this well, nor is it healthy for necessary growth.
This environment fosters rebellion which is the opposite of what you’re trying to instill in your children. Be sure that you’re giving your teen enough space so they don’t feel suffocated when they come home. Home should be a safe place where they want to be, not an unpleasant and confining one they try to avoid.
They need more direction
This is the flip side of Item 3 above. Being a parent is, in some ways, a balancing act between finding the right amount of structure and freedom for each one of your children individually. Sometimes parents give their children too much freedom, so much so that the teenager feels directionless, or worse, unloved.
Out-of-control teens displaying out-of-control behavior are doing so sometimes because it’s a manifestation of a cry for help, for more guidance than they’re currently getting, or because they feel lost socially or psychologically.
We’re not saying this is easy to diagnose, but knowing the possibilities of what might be going through your teenager’s mind will help you know how to respond.
Hormones are real
Though we shouldn’t put all the blame for adolescent bad behavior on “raging hormones”, we certainly can put some. The changes taking place inside their bodies during these crucial years of development often result in impulsive actions and rash decisions. Sometimes their behavior is unpredictable and surprising even to themselves.
There is lots of literature on this subject so if you feel so inclined, educate yourself by doing some reading or talking with a professional for more understanding on how hormones affect teenage behavior.
Many parents feel the need to express their concerns to their rebellious teen on a regular basis, constantly reiterating to them how worried they are for them. This typically results in the teenager developing a habit of ignoring their parents when being spoken to. Though parents mean well and do this out of love for their children, constant “worry language” communicates to teenagers that you have no real help to offer them and that pleasing you is near impossible.
Sending a message to our teens that says “you need to change so I can stop worrying” is not helpful. It’s natural and necessary to worry as a parent, but the last thing you want to do for your troubled teen is tell them it’s all about you by consistently displaying how worried you are. Remember that it’s them you care about. That’s what’s most important.
With the advent of ubiquitous pornography and instant access to endless content, our youth are now exposed to issues and topics (alcohol, drugs, sex) at 13 or 14 years of age (and younger) rather than at 17 or 18 as it used to be.
Peer pressure is not only stronger in teenage social circles today than it ever has been, but it starts much sooner. Developing an understanding of peer pressure and it’s influences is a skill that can take many years fo a person to learn, and today’s world is putting our children in the thick of it as early as ever.
Teach your kids how to be critical of media messages, the importance of making right choices, and how to resist peer pressure.
Your teen’s learning style is experiential
Do you have a teen that seems to change their clothing style, hairstyle, friends, and demeanor on a seemingly regular basis?
Perhaps your teenager is what’s referred to as an experiential learner which means that they prefer to learn through direct participation. Almost all teenagers are expert observers. Mix that skill with the fact that they’re at the age where self-image and perception are both being formed on a daily basis and you might have a troubled teen trying on trends, personalities, clothes, and social groups.
Though it may drive you crazy at times, remember not to judge them too harshly. The essence of who they are still lies under the surface. Some people simply need to participate in order to discover themselves.
Your teenager is a younger sibling
Studies have shown that older children are less likely to be rebellious than their younger siblings (check out the book Born to Rebel by Frank Sulloway). Research suggests this is the case because younger siblings, particularly last borns, feel the greatest need to differentiate themselves from their parents and siblings due to the fact that they typically receive the least amount of attention from other family members and have less expectations.
This leads to a lack of identity resulting in a strong desire to differentiate themselves. This can manifest itself through various forms of rebellion.
This usually manifests itself in teens who, for the majority of their lives, have meticulously tried to “do the right things” and be as obedient to authority as possible. Only-children and first-borns are the most common teens to experience delayed adolescence, and the rebellious behavior tends to surface prior to events suggesting permanent change such as a divorce in the home or before going to college.
Teenagers need certain life skills to deal with these kinds of big life changes. If all they’ve done is succeeded mindlessly up to a point, rebellion is often right under the surface and bursts through at even the smallest manifestation of life changes.
Doing your best to teach your children the concept of owning their decisions and taking responsibility for their actions can sometimes counteract these behaviors.