Who Am I? Why Am I Here?
Do you feel worried because your teenager is going in a different direction than you’d like? Does your teen display selfishness or a need for instant gratification? Are they spiteful, vengeful, irresponsible, or immature? Do they appear to have no purpose for what they do? While some teenagers do reach a point where they are totally out of control and need some degree of intervention, most rebelliousness is actually a struggle for independence.
Many teenagers go through periods of moodiness and rebellion. It’s a normal stage of development, but it can be rough watching these acts of defiance. When a child is disrespectful, rude, and contentious, it can cause you to re-examine your parenting style, but typical rebellion isn’t a signal that something is wrong. It’s about a teenager becoming a separate individual from their parents.
Understanding why teens do what they do and giving them the freedom to explore different roles, beliefs, expressions, and behaviors will help prepare them for the transition from childhood to an adult.
Focus on Who Your Teen Is
Teenage rebellion doesn’t necessarily mean your child will not grow up to benefit society, but it does mean that life will be difficult for a while. Coming to terms with those difficulties and accepting discomfort as a normal part of life, will help reduce the friction and stress that comes from the struggle to create their own style.
Sometimes bad choices prevail, choices that are different from those that you would make yourself, but those mistakes and missteps help a teen to learn and grow. Like adults, teenagers always do what they feel is right, proper, or justified. Taking the time to discover that reason and using what you learn to help your child work through the issues, will result in a more appropriate response.
Understanding teenagers takes time and effort. It requires parents to set aside their initial knee-jerk reaction long enough to find the motivating factor that sits at the heart of the child’s behavior. It requires parents to seek enlightenment before correction, to look beyond what the child says and does to what is actually happening emotionally.
In the book Positive Discipline for Teenagers: Empowering Your Teen and Yourself Through Kind and Firm Parenting, authors Jane Nelson and Lynn Lott recommend that “Instead of trying to mold your teen to fit your perception of how he or she should be, focus on who your teen is.”
The goal is to let go of who you want your child to become. That’s your ideal, not your teenager’s. Rather than insisting your teenager make the same choices you would, it’s better to accept him or her as they are, and allow them to experience life’s problems even if that means that life will be difficult for them.
While it’s normal for a parent to want to protect their children from pain and harm, understanding their needs, rather than attempting to impose your ideas upon them, will help them become who they desire to be.
Rebellion is Often a Fight for Independence
The teenage years are a transitional phase that allows a teenager to break free from the confinement and parental-controlled lifestyle of a child to emerge as an independent adult. This step brings responsibility, self discipline, and individuality. What teens need most during this period is understanding, but they also need support. When parents don’t accept this transformation, rebellion often results. Some of these rebellious behaviors include:
- not wanting to be with, or go anywhere with family
- listening to music their parents hate
- wearing colors their parents don’t like
- wearing clothing their parents don’t approve of
- not wanting to clean their room
- not wanting to take a shower every day
- sneaking out to be with friends their parents dislike
- adopting a moral code, or code of ethics opposite to their parents
- performing strange behaviors like dying their hair bright blue
Rebellion can be mild, or it can take on a more delinquent flair. It can be passive-aggressive or more physically and/or emotionally abusive. However, Nelson says that most of these actions strike out and attack “what parents value most.” Whatever is the most important to you – whether that is work values, morals, or religious beliefs – teens will fight against it.
Testing the Boundaries
In the foreword of the book What’s Happening to My Teen?: Uncovering the Sources of Rebellion, author Jim Burns lightly discusses the experimental phase that sits between childhood and becoming an adult. According to Burns, for teenagers to find their beliefs and values they must dump some of the many things they’ve been taught over the years. For parents, that can be frightening and painful. However, Burns cautions parents not to overreact when this happens. When teenagers get rid of everything you are, that’s when they discover how to find themselves.
Boundaries and consistent discipline are still needed during this transitional period, not permissiveness, but watching and allowing your teen the space to experiment with different values, beliefs, and ideas grants them the opportunity to discover what they believe.
After testing the boundaries and learning what works for them and what does not, most teenagers do circle back around to embrace many of the principles, morals, and beliefs their parents taught them, but parents also have to prepare for the possibility that their children will not return. The teen may find and prefer a different path.
Teenage Rebellion is a Sign of Change
When teenage rebellion begins, it’s a sign that your child is beginning to transcend into an independent adult. You can either fight the change by imposing your beliefs and attitudes upon your child – thereby lengthening or escalating the rebellion – or you can seek to understand what is actually motivating and driving their behavior. Most of the time, helping your teen work through the disturbing issues, rather than focusing on your own discomfort with the situation, will lessen their need to rebel.
However, regardless of your child’s choices, mistakes, and final beliefs, ethics, and values, always make sure you appreciate their uniqueness. The goal isn’t to remove the difficulties of life and form your child into a cookie-cutter replication of you. The goal of parenting is to help your teenager become an independent, successful adult.