Causes & Types of Teen Rebellion

Teens are, more than any other age group, focused on themselves. In a sense, this makes their actions simplistic: they will do what they want to do. But this egocentrism that often hustles teens into unsavory situations is of great concern to parents, which is why understanding where rebellion comes from can help a parent know how to properly deal with her teen.

Mental and Behavioral Disorders

Teen rebellion can come from myriad sources, but the most troubling are mental and behavioral disorders. Approximately 3 million children have such a disorder, which can lead to unmanageable acts of rebellion, according to the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development 1. As an expert on teenage mental disorders, Charles Cozic wrote in his book "Teenage Mental Illnesses" that the reason many parents don’t witness such mental problems prior to the teenage years is because most mental disorders do not emerge until puberty 2.

Power Dynamics

Being figures of authority, parents naturally control many of the actions and decisions of their teens. But a teen is no longer a child, at least to the extent that he has a strong self-image, high social aspirations and a desire for autonomy. In other words, when a child reaches her teen years, she understands that the power dynamic has shifted to allow her more independence than she previously had. But when a parent and a teen come into conflict, the teen might feel that her parents are purposefully being overbearing, which teens often see as a problem that cannot be solved merely through discussion. So when push comes to shove, a teen might opt for rebellion over compliance.

Parenting Styles

Not only does the teen’s view of her parents’ rule and boundary setting affect the emergence of rebellion but how a parent chooses to engage his teen can also shift the likelihood of rebellious actions. Psychologists divide different parenting strategies with regard to encouraging and controlling children’s behavior so as to better understand what strategies, or styles, produce more obedient and productive children. Kimberly Kopko of Cornell University, the author of the article “Parenting Styles and Adolescence,” for example, mentions that the permissive parenting style, in particular, produces children that are prone to rebellion. A permissive parent rarely declines her teen’s requests, which creates an atmosphere in which a teen feels he can always get his way, even when the parent says, “No.”

Countering Rebellion

The first step in countering rebellion is accepting it as a natural part of the teen world. While rebellious actions are due to disorders and others are due to family problems, your reaction should not rely too much on the root cause. Instead, support your teen through discussion. For many parents, this itself is an enigma, as many discussions turn into arguments or stonewalling. But allowing your teen to express himself is instrumental in avoiding cyclical conflicts, notes parenting group facilitator Lori McMechan of Child and Family Services of Western Manitoba. Listen to your teen, demonstrate your understanding of his frustration and find a way to address the problem that satisfies both sides.