Teenage girl in baseball cap and sunglasses


Parenting a rebellious teenager

With tales of defiance and stubbornness, the teenage years of a child have become a dreaded period for the modern parent. Parents may feel a loss of influence or "control" in their child's behavior during this time. However, parents should not despair. There are valid biological/development factors that may contribute to a teenager's behavior. And in time, the behavior and a parent's ability to cope will improve.

What happens during the teenage years?
A natural cause of the noticeable teenage behavior is related to brain development. The areas of cognitive control in the brain evolve during the teenage years. Social emotional development also evolves, but at a more rapid pace. The difference of development rates contributes to a more emotional decision-making process.

Teenagers will likely want to establish their individual identity and have this individuality acknowledged by their parents and peers. They also want to continue to be accepted by both groups. However at the same time, they are willing to rebel against both groups if they sense "too much" control. This need to separate from parents and establish an individual identity can be very intense.

Teens are also more able to see the fault and shortcomings of their parents. They are able to be objective and criticize long-held belief systems. This may create significant conflicts within the household.

While some teenagers may be defiant, many still follow established rules and only take liberties with familiar authorities.

So what does a parent do?

  • Talk with your child and stay connected. This is especially important during peaceful times because the connection developed through peaceful moments may provide positive memories to help get them through stressful times. Dinner time is a useful family time to learn from your teen about his/her interactions with peers, current affairs, fears and perceived hurts.
  • Offer to drive your child to their activities. Being in and around their environment may help a parent gain insight into their world.
  • Discuss subjects such as drug use, sexuality, future careers, academic and extracurricular activities frequently. Be interested in their world.
  • Avoid frequent disapproving statements, praise when due without sounding hypocritical.
  • Encourage good sleep and eating habits.
  • The onset of mental health conditions including depression, anxiety and substance abuse can sometimes been seen during the teenage years. Parents should watch for unusual behaviors like excessive anger, irritability, withdrawal, decline in academic performance, sleep disturbance and eating disorder. Seek help as soon as possible because these conditions are treatable.

Throughout childhood, communication between a child and parent is key to their emotional and physical development. Any time there are concerns with your child's behavior, or how to connect with your child, talk with your pediatrician. Pediatricians can help assess and evaluate what is happening and also provide initial counseling of a defiant/rebellious child. If mental health care is needed, pediatricians can also help connect parents to an appropriate care provider or program.


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