How to Deal with a Teen's Rebellious Behavior

Most teens rebel a little.
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It’s exhausting to be the parent of a teenager. It’s particularly tiresome when your teen exerts his independence and refuses to follow your household rules.

While ignoring this rebellious behavior is a strategy for disaster, coming down too hard could lead to even more troublesome behavior. Navigate these murky waters carefully, first finding the reasons for your teen’s rebellion and then doing what you can to minimize the uprising.

Reasons for Rebellion

  • Seeking Attention: Take a look at your family life. Are you wrapped up in a big project at work? Taking care of an ill family member? Simply tuned out in general? Even though your teen has grown up, he still desire the attention from his parents that he received as a child. If he can’t get that attention for positive behavior, he could start to rebel to receive attention for negative reasons.
  • Peer Pressure: What teenager doesn’t succumb to this? If your child’s friends think it’s “cool” to be disrespectful and rebel, then your teen might go along with this. The way to prevent this is to know your teen’s friends, their parents and their behavior. Innocuously insert yourself into the friendship by always offering to drive the group to places or host sleepovers at your house. You’re more likely to overhear--or straight-out be told--information when you’re always around.  
  • Pushing for Independence: If your teen perceives your rules as overly strict, he could rebel against them (even if he’s been following these rules for years without issue). Take a look at what rules you’re consistently enforcing, and determine whether they’re necessary to stick around.
  • Hormonal Problems: If you know anything about biology, you know this is a wild time in a teen’s life, hormonally speaking. These fluctuations can cause serious mood swings from your teen at the most unlikely of times. 
  • Stress Release: To an adult, dealing with a mid-term, some rude friends and a part-time job doesn’t seem like a recipe for stress. However, your teen doesn’t have the real-world experience that you do to deal with these situations, and to him, the stress is real. He might deal with feeling stressed out by rebelling against you.

How to Reduce Rebellion

  • Model Respectful Behavior: It’s tempting to give your sassy teen a taste of her own medicine, but that will only reinforce their behavior. Instead, talk to your teen respectfully to model the behavior you expect. Don’t forget that it’s not just about words, but also your tone and delivery.
  • Enforce Well-Developed Consequences: Work with your teen to develop house rules, and make sure she understands why each rule exists. Talk about what the consequences will be for breaking the rules in advance. When your teen is involved in creating the rules, and she understands the consequences for breaking them, she’ll be less likely to rebel. 
  • Accept, Don’t Reject: It’s hurtful when your teen rebels against you, particularly if she does it in a mean-spirited way by insulting you or shutting you out. However, a parent shouldn’t reject their teen in the same manner; even if they can’t admit it, teens need their parents. It might be trite, but the phrase “if you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all” applies here (for both parent and teen!)
  • Be Consistent: Some days, you’ll feel like you don’t have the mental strength to deal with a rebellious teen. You’re more likely to let your child get away with things that she wouldn’t be able to otherwise. However, she’s likely to assume that you’re not serious about the rules and consequences and become more likely to act out, expecting it to be overlooked again. Stay consistent in your expectations and the consequences of her actions.
  • Seek professional help. If your teen engages in dangerous behavior--like experimenting with drugs and alcohol--talk to your pediatrician. It’s important to address substance abuse problems, mental health issues, or any other potential underlying problems as swiftly as possible.

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