Defiant Behavior in Teenagers

The teenage years in life introduce many stressful changes. As a parent, you probably remember some of the difficulties of being a teenager and how you might have been defiant yourself. The changes in a teenager’s biology, social group, and academic demands all contribute to defiant behavior. Parents should take care to understand what teenagers are going through, while still finding a way to interact with their little rebels.

Thinking Strategies as a Root

The defiant behavior often seen in teenagers has a clear biological stem: brain development 2. While many teenagers may be able to grow beards and dunk basketballs, physical maturity does not equal mental maturity. Deborah Yurgelun-Todd of the Brain Imaging Laboratory in Harvard University's McClean Hospital states, “Just because [teens are] physically mature, they may not appreciate the consequences or weigh information the same way as adults do.” The reason for this is that teenagers’ frontal lobes, the area of the brain responsible for rational decision making, do not fully develop until the person is in the mid-20s.

Rationalization as an Antagonist

Teenagers possess the commonly witnessed “rationalization” skill that you find in husbands and evil politicians. When combined with the impulsiveness that most teenagers are prone to, rationalization leads to a troublesome phenomenon: teenagers making mistakes and rationalizing them afterward. This poses a problem to the parent, who only wishes to teach her teen the rights and wrongs of life. What a mom or dad sees as defiant behavior is often not stubbornness but a genuine failure to recognize that a certain action was inappropriate. As a result, when a teenager acts out in a defiant manner, he may try to explain it away as if there were no problem at all.


Once you understand the reasons for your teenager’s defiant behavior and stubbornness in not admitting her defiance, you can begin to think of alternative strategies to communicating with your teenager. The main goal should always be strengthening your relationship, as doing so will allow for further communications and a better flow of important information. When communicating with a defiant teenager, be sure to be calm; it’s all too easy to get into a frivolous argument with someone half your age, and from your teenager’s standpoint, you are a person of dominance. So, any attempts that your teenager sees as irrational or emotion-driven can be rationalized as intimidation. Do your best to make your teenager know that you are attempting to open lines of communication with the best of intentions -- she’ll get the point.

Things to Avoid

In general, when dealing with a rebellious teen, the main thing you want to avoid is carelessness. Make sure that all of your actions and communication attempts are genuine and won’t exacerbate the problem. It’s easy to treat your teen like an adult, and ask the practical questions such as “what’s bothering you?” However, the teenage years are an emotional time and not all teenagers are willing to open themselves up. Do what you can to avoid embarrassing your teen or making him feel ashamed to discuss his problems.