It's the poster characteristic of the teenager years: adolescent rebellion. And it's one that causes many conflicts with parents.
Two common types of rebellion are against socially fitting in (rebellion of non-conformity) and against adult authority (rebellion of non-compliance.) In both types, rebellion attracts adult attention by offending it.
The young person proudly asserts individuality from what parents like or independence of what parents want and in each case succeeds in provoking their disapproval. This is why rebellion, which is simply behavior that deliberately opposes the ruling norms or powers that be, has been given a good name by adolescents and a bad one by ...view middle of the document...
That's why the antidote for rebellion is the true independence offered by creating and accepting a challenge - the young person deciding to do something hard with themselves for themselves in order to grow themselves. The teenager who finds a lot of challenges to engage with, and who has parents who support those challenges, doesn't need a lot of rebellion to transform or redefine him or herself in adolescence.
To what degree a young person needs to rebel varies widely. In his fascinating book, "Born to Rebel" (1997), Frank Sulloway posits that later born children tend to rebel more than first born. Some of his reasoning is because they identify less with parents, do not want to be clones of the older child or children who went before, and give themselves more latitude to grow in nontraditional ways. So, parents may find later born children to be more rebellious.
From what I have seen in counseling, rebellion tends to have different roles in a young person's growth depending in which stage of adolescence it is expressed. Stage by adolescent stage, then, here is how rebellion seems to function.
REBELLION IN EARLY ADOLESCENCE (9-13).
Serious rebellion typically begins at the outset of adolescence, and when it does many parents think this opposition is against them. They are usually mistaken. Rebellion is not against them; it is only acted out against them.
Rebellion at this age is primarily a process through which the young person rejects the old child identity that he or she now wants to shed to clear the way for more grown up redefinition ahead. Rebellion at this early adolescent age proclaims: "I refuse to be defined and treated as a child anymore!" Now he knows how he doesn't want to be, but he has yet to discover and establish how he does want to be.
How should parents respond to strong rebellion at this stage? When requests are met with delay, use patient insistence to wear down resistance. (See 9/15/09 blog, "Nagging the adolescent.") And try to move the early adolescent from acting out to talking out. Begin by asking, "can you help me better understand what you need?" See if you can get the young person to put their feelings into words. Having been given a full hearing and having had his or her say, the young person may now be more inclined to let parents have their way.
REBELLION IN MID ADOLESCENCE (13-15)
In mid adolescence, during the late middle school and early high school years, most rebellion is about creating needed differentiation to experiment with identity and needed opposition to gather power of self-determination.
When parents feel hard-pressed by these acts of rebellion (breaking social rules, running with wilder friends, for example) they are best served by allowing natural consequences to occur and by repeatedly providing positive guidance. They do this by continually making statements about, and taking stands for, choices that support constructive growth.
Each time they do so, they provide the...