How to handle your rebellious teenage kid

Teenage years: A phase many parents, if not all, brace themselves for as they never know what to expect, because parenting teens can be quite the challenge.

Many people think they have teens figured out— uncontrollable, disrespectful, and rebellious—however, not all teenagers are like this, but it is a common part of teenage growth and development.

In her article, The Best Way to Deal with Teenage Rebellion, Jane A Williams says: “It’s true that risk taking is natural and increases during adolescence, which is scary for parents. However, teens take more risks, not because they don’t understand the dangers, but because they weigh risks differently than adults.”

During a chat with a few people now in their 20s, I asked what the most rebellious thing they did as a teenager was, and, (requesting for anonymity), here are some of the responses:

“I left home in the middle of the night, went clubbing for two days straight. I was 16 years old.”

“I stole money from my parents and went on a trip to Kenya with my friends, without my parents knowing. I was 16 years old.”

“My mom warned me about losing my virginity so much that it became annoying. One day we, quarreled and I decided to lose it that night, to the son of her best friend. I was 17 years old.”

“My parents had confiscated my phone because I didn’t get good grades in a test, so I hid both their phones for a week. I was 14 years old.”

“The day I did my last O-level national exam, we broke the windows of our former classes and ran home. I was 15 years old.”

Teenage rebellion is a phase of human growth where one is developing identity independence from their parents/family, which includes making independent decisions as well.

“I was 18 years old when I wanted to move out to get my own place. When my parents didn’t approve, I ran away. They thought I was missing for months.”

Going by these testimonies, most parents will agree that safety is critical. “And to keep our teenagers safe, parents need to have influence. If we don’t have influence, we lose our best opportunity to keep them safe,” Williams writes. 

Causes and signs of teen rebellion 

Teenage rebellion is a phase of human growth where one is developing identity independence from their parents/family, which includes making independent decisions as well.

As per Kristi Pahr’s article in Parents Magazine; teenage rebellion is a product of hormonal changes and the still-developing prefrontal cortex. Prefrontal cortex is the part of the brain responsible for judgment, understanding consequences, impulse and emotional control. 

According to diverse experiences shared by parents, a rebellious teen is often characterised by the following; loss of communication with the family, isolation (spending a lot of time alone), regular disagreeing, risky activities like sex, alcohol/substance abuse, stealing and skipping school, among other things.

Parents should worry even more when teenagers self-harm, or keep themselves fully covered at all times, even in hot weather. Also, there could be depression, or low mood, sadness, or even a lack of interest in everything. Low self-esteem sometimes manifests, like thinking they are not good enough, leading to harmful changes.

Handling teen rebellion

Roger Mugenzi, a father of four boys, says, “They tend to go against decisions you make. This will test your patience and you might get tired; you might even let them get away with their behaviour sometimes. I had to be consistent with the rules. You have to do this otherwise they will think you are not serious.”

Dr Cindi Cassady, a clinical psychologist, shares tips on how to deal with a rebellious teen:

● Despite busy schedules, try to find at least one or two hours to spend some quality time with your teen a few days a week.

● Encourage your teens to invite their friends to your home so you have a chance to get to know who they hang out with. It is important to know who has influence in their life.

● A lot of parents are uncomfortable bringing up certain topics, perhaps related to sexual activity or drugs, but a movie can be a good starting point and by asking questions, parents may get to know what their teen thinks about those topics.

● Communicate, and not just when you are disciplining your teen. Start by asking questions about their day at school, their friends, try to listen to what they have to say without lecturing them. They will be encouraged to be more open since you show interest in their lives.

● Seek professional support if you feel you’ve tried everything as a parent and your teenager is unwilling or unable to adjust. Sometimes there is a more serious problem such as undiagnosed depression, substance use or low-esteem due to bullying at school that parents might not know of. □

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