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How to Deal with a Rebellious Teen

Reading Time: 5 minutes

Rebellion is a natural part of being a teenager and growing up. By rebelling against authority, teenagers are expressing their beliefs and preferences as a distinct person separate from their parents. An important aspect of being a teenager is the process of developing a sense of personal identity, a process called the individuation of the adolescent personality.

But a teen’s expressions of rebellion can be difficult for parents to navigate, especially if parents and children have different priorities, values, and expectations of each other.

5 Signs of a Rebellious Teenager

  1. Self-defeating and self-destructive behaviors
  2. Neglecting schoolwork over a long period of time
  3. Drinking alcohol and experimenting with drugs
  4. Breaking rules and even laws
  5. Engaging in physical risk-taking, like extreme sports or other dangerous activities.

Why Are Teenagers Rebellious?

Why do teenagers rebel? Studies have shown that a multitude of genetic and environmental factors contribute to teenage rebellion. By understanding these factors, parents can more easily address the challenge of teenage rebellion.

  • Teen rebellion is a form of attention-seeking behavior. For example, they might be jealous of parental focus on younger siblings.
  • Lack of frontal lobe neural development in adolescents results in immature judgment and greater impulsivity.
  • Social anxiety is another cause of teenage rebellion, particularly if teens feel left out and experience FOMO.
  • Peer pressure can lead to self-destructive behavior, including substance abuse and risky sexual choices.
  • As teens go through many physical changes, the resulting hormonal mood swings may mimic the trends of teenage rebellion.

Tips for Dealing with a Rebellious Child or Teenager

It’s not easy to figure out the best approaches for how to deal with an unruly teenager. Here are some tips for dealing with a rebellious child while also respecting their need for independence end and autonomy.

  • Develop a clear set of household rules and expectations. When teens understand the ground rules, they are more likely to meet expectations. This is about establishing positive boundaries for all.
  • Focus on honest communication by asking questions and listening. If a teen feels heard, they are more likely to open up. Though many rebellious teens are reticent and monosyllabic, the walls of silence can be overcome. Empathy is extremely helpful in building a bridge through the conflict.
  • Pick your battles and have patience. Parents need to think about what’s really important to address and what they can let go. Nobody has an inexhaustible supply of patience, so remind yourself to be patient as you work through these tricky situations.
  • Be open to seeking professional help and support. Many families are reluctant to admit their child is struggling. However, incorporating professional help can be a turning point in the journey towards recovery and greater family harmony.

When Do the Signs of a Rebellious Teenager Indicate a Mental Health Issue?

Sometimes dealing with a rebellious child feels impossible, and it seems like nothing you do makes a difference. Or a teen’s rebellious behavior may go beyond pushing back against rules and extend to breaking laws, getting in fights, or staying out all night. In these cases, an underlying mental health condition may be the answer to the question “Why are teenagers rebellious?”

If teen rebellion is accompanied by episodes of extreme of anger, underlying depression may be the cause. Research shows that depression in boys is more likely to manifest as irritability and anger, while girls are more likely to express sadness and hopelessness.

In addition, rebellious teenagers who consistently argue, push the boundaries, and refuse to follow rules may be struggling with oppositional defiance disorder (ODD). ODD usually begins in childhood and is significantly associated with depression and anxiety.

Approaches for Helping a Rebellious Teenager

When a teen’s behaviors point to an underlying mental health condition, treatment may be warranted. The most effective treatment options for a defiant teenager are those that incorporate the family into the healing process.

Treatment professionals help remove the stigma around mental health, and offer acceptance and support for the entire family. For a rebellious teen, raising self-awareness and building self-esteem are essential. Learning to love and accept themselves increases their well-being. In addition, teens gain tools for more harmonious relationships within and outside the family.

Professionals can provide a comprehensive strategy that helps to restore trust and reopen the lines of communication within the family unit to rebuild loving connections. Through parental and professional support that emphasizes acceptance and love, a rebellious teen can find healthy, productive ways to express their opinions and passions.

Family therapy for signs of a rebellious teenager

Accessing Professional Support for a Rebellious Teen

Dealing with a rebellious child can be frustrating and confusing for both the teen and their parents. When the situation has reached a point that overwhelms the family, it is important to ask for help.

If your family is struggling with how to deal with a rebellious child, a full assessment by a mental health professional can help determine underlying causes. While there are common causes and signs of a rebellious teenager, the answer to the question “Why do teenagers rebel?” will be different for every individual and family.

A professional can help uncover those reasons and also recommend the appropriate level of care. Here are four treatment options for a defiant teenager:

Individual Counseling and Therapy

Teenagers open up when talking to someone outside their family unit. A counselor or therapist offers a safe space where issues can be addressed.

Family Counseling and Therapy

Family therapy provides a safe place to work through issues alongside a trained professional and incorporates the teen’s full support system.

Local Outpatient Treatment

Outpatient treatment provides structure and support for both teens and parents to address the underlying issues that catalyze rebellious behavior.

Residential Treatment at a Teen Treatment Center

During inpatient residential treatment, the teen moves into a residential facility and works to overcome the issues in an intensive process.

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Newport Academy Restoring Families Resources: Newport Academy Well-being Resources: Rebellious Teen

Newport Academy’s Approach: Empowering Teens, Restoring Families

At Newport Academy, our clinicians use the groundbreaking Attachment-Based Family Therapy methodology as a foundation of our integrated treatment approach. ABFT is proven to heal teen depression and suicidality, while repairing ruptures in the parent-child relationship.

Furthermore, we give parents tools for how to deal with a rebellious teen compassionately and with unconditional love. And we guide teens toward greater self-knowledge, healthy coping mechanisms, and skills for emotional regulation.

Contact us today to learn more about our tailored treatment approach and our family-focused philosophy of care.

Photos by Newport Academy, Dan Stevens and Josh Hild from Unsplash.


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American Psychological Association