How Do I Know If My Teen Is Rebelling?

Teenage rebellion is not just about skipping class, staying out past curfew, or smoking anymore, now the rebellion has taken on new forms and looks considerable different from the past.  Understanding the early warning signs of teenage rebellion as opposed to normal development can make the different not only in your relationship with the teen but in their lives as well.  As a mother, former teacher and counselor of teens, I have observed three main areas of rebellion in teens.  Each of these areas is as important as the next and should be addressed.

Authority.  As part of the normal developmental process of a teenager growing into adulthood, teens become increasing aware of the numerous authority figures in their lives.  For a teen, the number of authority figures seems to multiply from parents to coaches to teachers to police officers to store managers to even older teens.  While during childhood the authority figures were for the most part respected, for some teens they all of a sudden seem to become disrespected as the child ages.

Rebelling against authority is open defiance of the rules established whether it is at home, school, athletic field or work.  This rebellion maybe obvious or it maybe secretive, either way it is rebellion against an authority figure.  The teen maybe staying out all night, not going to school, drag racing, sneaking out of the house, running away, drinking and driving, stealing from an employer, school or home, or destruction of property to name a few of the big ones.  Also look for the not so obvious rebellion symptoms such as rolling of the eyes, not making eye contact, intentionally dragging out an instruction, sleeping instead of working, and name calling.

Peers.  It may seem strange that this category would be included as a type of rebellion; however some teens do not have issues with the authority figures in their lives but rather with their peers.  It is normal for teens to experiment becoming friends with different peer groups especially as their interests and activities change.  Some teens do well with multiple peer groups while other teens struggle to fit into one peer group.

The rebellion begins at teens struggle to fit into a peer group that is not accepting of them so they act out against that group.  This can look like bullying on the surface and can resulting in fighting, backstabbing, and name calling.  Some teens switch peer groups repeatedly as a way to prevent anyone from coming too close to them.  In the end, they may experience isolation and lose of friends.  Other teens identify so strongly with one group, a gang, to the point that they are antagonistic to others who are not a part of their group.  All of this is rebellion towards their peers.

Self.  As teens struggle with forming their identity separate and apart from their parents, often times they do not like what they see.  Instead they began a self-loathing process that can rapidly become harmful behavior.  Their rebellion against themselves displays as hatred for how they appear, how they think, how they act and what they have become.  In order to feel better about themselves, they often engage in dangerous behavior to bring relief to the pain they feel.  This self-harming behavior can be cutting, excessive piercings, bingeing/purging, drugs (illegal and prescription abuse), gambling, alcohol use, and excessive risk taking.

If any of these areas sounds familiar, don’t lose hope.  The good news is that when rebellion is handled correctly, the impact on the teen’s life can be long-lasting.  Look for the article titled, “What to Do If Your Teen Rebels” for ideas on how to properly handle the rebellion.

For more information, watch this YouTube video:

Repairing, restoring, and rebuilding relationships takes time, energy and effort.  If you find yourself needing more help during this process, please call our offices at 407-647-7005 to schedule an appointment.  Or you can send me a quick email at chammond@lifeworksgroup.org.

What to Do If Your Teen Rebels

Rebellion in teens can be secretive or obvious depending on the personality of the teenager and the circumstances.  It can show itself as rebellion against authority, against their peers, or against themselves.  The article titled, “Symptoms of Teenage Rebellion” identifies some of the symptoms and breaks down each category of rebellion separating out normal behavior from abnormal behavior.  Once you have come to the realization that your teen is rebelling, than it is time to take action to help them overcome the destructive behavior.

Think.  The first step in helping you teen is to differentiate between normal teenage behavior and abnormal teenage behavior and address only the abnormal teenage behavior.  Leave the normal teenage behavior for another day.  Also, if your teen is in trouble for stealing from school and sneaking out of the house, then address one of the issues because the issues are not related.  If however, your teen is in trouble for stealing from school and destruction of property at school, then address the issues together.  Having a plan before you begin the conversation knowing in advance the range of discipline that will be given will give you confidence and help you to remain calm during the discussion.

Confront.  The second step is direct confrontation of the issue at hand.  Pay attention to the environment and the people around when beginning the confrontation.  While their friends are over, while their siblings are in the room, and without your spouse is not a good time for confrontation.   Rather choose a time that works for everyone and if needed, set a date.  Select a neutral ground in the home to have the discussion, neither their room nor your room are appropriate as these should be places of comfort.  As difficult as this may be, it is best to remain calm and unemotional during the discussion.  Tears and bursts of anger can be interpreted as manipulation and increase the tension and emotions of the conversation.  Keep the conversation on the one point you decided at the beginning resisting the urge to repeat yourself.

Listen.  During the conversation, remember that this is not a time for lecturing; rather this is a time for gaining insight as to the real reason behind the rebellion.  The type of rebellion should provide you with a clue as to what they are rebelling against but that it does not explain the why.  To discover the why of rebellion, you need to listen past the words to the heart of the matter while paying special attention to the emotion shown.  Look for body language to help you discover what is going on: do they look away when a topic is addressed, do they become angry at a comment made, do they shut down when you respond, or do they cry over what seems like a small issue.  Don’t be afraid to identify and inquire about the emotion: fear, anxiety, sadness, excitement, guilt, or surprise.

Remember.  At some point it may be useful to identify with the emotion your teen is feeling by remembering a time when you felt the same way.  Use this as an opportunity to bond with your teen by sharing an experience with them.  Oftentimes teens feel as though they are the only ones to feel a certain way and no one could ever understand them.  Just sharing a similar moment and becoming venerable in front of your teen demonstrates a heart of understanding beyond the disciplining.

Counsel.  Giving teens counsel is a tricky task because if they don’t feel like you really understand them, they won’t respond well to your counsel.  Instead of giving counsel to unwelcoming ears, postpone the conversation until another time and give your teen a chance to absorb the conversation.  This action alone demonstrates that you are more interested in helping them to grow than in blind obedience.  If they are willing to receive the counsel, then keep it short.  Better to get a small message across well then a long message out poorly.

Seek help.  If during the process it becomes apparent that your teen is not responding positively, seek help from a professional.  Choose a professional who has personal experience with teenagers, perhaps works with them in a coaching or teaching environment or has teenagers of their own.   The best help includes some parenting advice as well as counsel for the teen because it is better for everyone to be on the same page going forward.

Rebellion does not have to overwhelming and can actually improve and deepen the communication between the parents and the teen.  Use these moments to strengthen your relationship instead of creating a greater divide.

For more information watch this video.  

Repairing, restoring, and rebuilding relationships takes time, energy and effort.  If you find yourself needing more help during this process, please call our offices at 407-647-7005 to schedule an appointment.  Or you can send me a quick email at chammond@lifeworksgroup.org.