Why Your Teen Needs to Rebel (This Too Shall Pass)

Who doesn’t remember the 1955 iconic film Rebel Without a Cause starring the ultimate original bad boy, James Dean? I mean come on, let’s face it, he made teenage rebellion sexy.

Unfortunately for most of us parents, there isn’t anything sexy at all about the movie that we have found ourselves starring in, with our own angry and misunderstood teenager. It would be great to bypass the slamming doors, unkind words, and constant eye-rolling suggesting that we are the stupidest human beings on the planet, but alas, rebellion is a healthy and even necessary part of our teenager’s transition into adulthood.

Please Excuse Your Teens, Their Brains Are Wired that Way

“But why?” you ask. Why do our kids morph into these angry and vile little creatures? Because nature wired them to instinctively break away from us and become autonomous. At some point, every single adolescent will begin to test the waters and see how far they can push. Some teens push harder than others but even the best kids will make some questionable choices as they are trying to navigate the transition from childhood to adulthood.

The risk-taking and the rule-breaking are both part of the process to developing a separate identity and working out how to make analytical decisions. Whereas as children don’t really see their parents’ flaws, teens are beginning to exercise judgement. They’re developing the ability to construct critical arguments and unfortunately, you’re going to have to bear the brunt of it.

Handling Your Young Rebel

The best way to handle the rigors of our teenager’s rebellious phase is simply to accept the reality that it’s an integral part of their journey. That’s not to say there won’t be times we’ll want to ship them off to boarding school or feel an immense dislike for these rude and ungrateful “brats”, but at the end of the day, just knowing that this too shall pass does help make the rocky road a little easier to trudge.

If You Think the Rebel Is Bad…

On the other side of the spectrum is the child who doesn’t want to leave the nest at all, and no doubt, there is just as much grief from a kid who doesn’t want to take responsibility for their life and lacks in the area of decision-making. While a non-rebellious teenager might ease the drama in the household, at the end of the day, you do want to raise independent adults who have a sense of self. I’m not saying to encourage rebellion in our kids– we aren’t gluttons for punishment– but understand that, difficult though it may be, teenage rebellion is something that pretty much just needs to happen.

A huge part of becoming an integrated human being starts with the ability to make sound and rational decisions. Biology doesn’t equip most of our teenager’s brains with the reasoning skills they need to make adult decisions until they are well into their twenties—so while we might be saying “Okay kiddo, I expect you to start acting more like an adult than a child,” there may be a part of their brain still clinging to the last familiar and safe vestals of childhood. I’ve heard both of my daughters say on numerous occasions that they were scared to grow up and leave home. Those feelings can be very powerful for our children, especially if we have a close and loving bond with them.

Let Your Adolescent Be an Adolescent

It’s hard to try and embrace something as funky as rebellion. Trust me, you are preaching to the choir here, but if we are going to survive adolescence, then we have to find a way to see our teenager’s rebellion as a rite of passage and give them a verrry long day pass. If we don’t, then we become part of the problem and not the solution.

One of the biggest mistakes that I’ve personally made during my own teenagers’ rebellious phases has been in taking things too personally and letting my ego get the best of me. Certainly, I have to draw the boundary lines in the sand, but I also have to give in sometimes and ask myself– is this about me or them?

As parents, it may be difficult to remind ourselves that our teenager’s transition from child to adult doesn’t just happen magically overnight, but rather, it’s a process that begins the moment they are born. And while they might yell at us in anger, “I hate you. I can’t wait to move out of here,” we have to remind ourselves that those angry words are fueled by both a desire to spread their wings, coupled with a fear of losing the security of their cocoon.

Rebellion may indeed be a natural part of our kids’ transition into adulthood, but there are also factors that contribute to the degree of rebellion our kids experience and how they act out their teenage angst. These factors include:

  • Low self-esteem
  • How parents enforce or approach discipline 
  • Marital problems or other family tensions including abuse or addiction
  • Hanging out with the wrong group of friends 
  • Immaturity
  • Underdeveloped coping mechanisms or life skills
  • Fear of success or failure 
  • Divorce or separation
  • Loss such as a death
  • Poverty

The key to surviving our teenager’s rebellion lies in our ability to differentiate between what is healthy rebellion and what is not.

What Is Healthy Rebellion?

Healthy rebellion is the natural process our teenagers face in their trek towards autonomy and responsibility. It involves constant and open communication with them so that as parents, we can close the gap between “us” and “them” and find some common ground.

In healthy rebellion, we ask questions and encourage our teenager to do the same so we can help to clear up their feeling of being misunderstood. We support their independence and help them learn how to have adult conversations, take responsibility for their mistakes, and act in mature ways by leading through example. And most importantly, as hard as it is to watch our children turn into adults, we have to find a way to put aside our own inner conflict when it comes to letting them go, and do everything in our power to encourage them to spread their wings and fly. 

Do you encourage your teen’s rebellion in a healthy way? Share your thoughts with us!

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