Teenagers Who Refuse to Obey Parental Authority

The general goal of all parents is to teach and guide their children toward adulthood. Once the child reaches adolescence, this goal can become more difficult. Teenagers often challenge parental authority in their quest for independence. If those challenges to authority become so serious that the teen refuses to obey, parents might need to take preemptive action.

Quest for Independence

The quest for independence is the motivation behind defiance toward parental authority, states psychologist Carl Pickhardt in an article at PsychologyToday.com. In the early teenage years, an adolescent often suddenly develops an antagonism toward authority. This new abstract thinking suddenly awakens the teenager’s awareness that the parents’ rules and limitations are questionable and open to challenge.


Once teenagers begin to resist parental authority, parents can ease some of the friction by using the techniques of respect and compromise. Often a teenager just needs to communicate her opinion or her thoughts about a circumstance. If you can take a deep breath and allow your teenager to vent feelings of frustration for a few minutes, she might come around to the point of cooperation. You might even find that you can compromise with your teenager on occasion. Perhaps curfew can be 30 minutes later for a special occasion or your teen can skip her chores on a day when she has an especially heavy schedule.

Resistance vs. Defiance

As difficult as defiance or questioning of parental authority can be for parents, adolescents need these skills to succeed, advised child behavioral therapist James Lehman (1947-2010) with the Empowering Parents website 2. It’s important and even healthy for a teenager to question authority and to test limits. An important difference exists between appropriate resistance and inappropriate defiance, however. If a teenager crosses the line from respectful resistance to abusive or inappropriate defiance, parents need to respond authoritatively to correct the child.

Oppositional Defiant Disorder

A teenager who displays openly argumentative behavior and refuses to respect parental authority might have oppositional defiant disorder. Some symptoms of ODD include:

  • hostility toward authority figures
  • aggression
  • argumentative behavior
  • passive-aggressive behavior
  • rule-breaking
  • according to the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry

If you think your teenager is showing symptoms of ODD, have her evaluated by a doctor.

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