Black Leather Jackets & Cigarette Smoke

The top causes of teenage rebellion.

Teen+rebellion+may+be+common%2C+but+it+is+caused+by+many+different+things.+Photo+by%3A+Emma+Harris

Teen rebellion may be common, but it is caused by many different things. Photo by: Emma Harris

We all know of the classic, perpetuated stereotype: a rebellious teen who sneaks out at three a.m., makes the most irresponsible decisions you could possibly think of, and constantly clashes with any authority figure without even the slightest regard for rules. And while it’s unfair to match this stereotype to every teen you meet, the rumors aren’t exactly falsehoods; a fairly significant amount of teens rebel, each in their own ways. The question that should be asked, and is desperately trying to be answered by their parents, is why? What psychological factors cultivate the “I don’t care” attitude rebellious teens hold? 

As most would guess, one common cause of rebellion is too many rules. It’s natural that if any person, no matter his or her age, feels suffocated and frustrated by their lack of freedom, they’ll push back on the restrictions. This is actually why most teens who were previously sweet and docile start to rebel – they’re tired of trying to be perfect and of being constricted, in need of freedom. “Too many rules and expectations, stress, or even just a strong family culture, can make teens rebel in order to gain freedom and explore their own identity,” Life Coaching for Parents’ website reads. Trying on new identities is a normal part of being a teenager, and sometimes, in order to find these identities, teens rebel.

Amy Budrow, PhD, a clinical psychologist and professor in the Child Study Center at New York University School of Medicine in Manhattan says to “make sure you communicate with your child when you’re proud, when he did a good job. It’s important to balance that out,” in an article on WebMD. If a child has a lack of positive feedback in their life, they too will tend to spiral down the path of rebellion. This is for two reasons. One is because if their hard work is never appreciated, they will enter the mentality of “They don’t care anyway, so why even try?” This very natural response makes sense; if no good comes out of them trying their hardest, there’s no motivation to work. This situation is worsened if they get exclusively negative feedback, for their responsibilities become associated with “nagging” and therefore manifest from more than a point of frustration.

Additionally, if a teen starts to feel like no matter what they do, something is lacking or wrong, they start feeding into this stereotype, thinking “If they see me as irresponsible no matter what I do, I might as well just be irresponsible.” Another reason, the reason often portrayed in TV shows or movies, is that teens act out of a desire for attention. As an article for Shepherd’s Hill Academy says, if a teen is desperate enough, negative attention can become a way to satisfy this need. However, this negative attention just isn’t as satisfying as positive attention would be, which is why teens will continue to captivate it; it may be bad, but at least it’s something.

The most common causation of teenage rebellion, however, has a lot to do with the brain, which is beginning to develop the ability to “synthesize information into ideas” during the teenage years, according to David Elkin, PhD, a professor of child development at Tufts University School of Medicine. This age is the time where the prefrontal cortex, the part of the brain that forms opinions, starts to develop, so teens have the ability to argue their points. “It may seem that they argue for the sake of arguing. But really, they’re practicing their new abilities,” Elkin says.

Teen rebellion isn’t present everywhere, but it still exists, each kind looking a little different. The important thing to remember is to love your child no matter what and make sure to show that love. Too frequently parents not only forget about the literal brain development occurring in their teenagers’ brains, but also forget that, while being a parent is hard, so is being a teen.