How to Treat a Rebellious Teen

The trials of growing up can lead to rebellious teens in every generation. From the hippies of the 1960s to the millennials of the new century, every generation expresses themselves through some kind of rebellion. Adolescents feel strongly about things, and sometimes that leads to rebellion against the status quo. Thus, the question often is not whether a young person will rebel but when they will become a rebellious teen. After all, teenage rebellion seems to be an integral part of growing up.

A Little Rebellion is a Part of Being a Teenager

Rebellion against adult authority by teens often is part and parcel of growing up. By rebelling against authority in general and their parents in particular, rebellious teenagers are expressing themselves as independent individuals.

In the process of developing a sense of personal identity, a teen may rebel against the family. Thus, the individuation of the adolescent personality often leads to a sense of personal rebellion. In such individuation, conflicts arise between a teen’s newfound sense of identity and parental perspectives.

However, the behavioral choices of rebellious teens can be risky and even deadly. Given such dangers, parents often have to rein in a rebellious teen before they hurt themselves or others. Such risk-taking can damage valued family relationships and long-term friendships.

Types of Risks Taken by Rebellious Teenagers

  • Taking part in self-defeating and self-destructive behaviors
  • Neglecting schoolwork to the detriment of academic performance
  • Drinking alcohol and experimenting with illegal drugs
  • Breaking rules and even laws, leading to serious consequences
  • Engaging in physical risks, through activities like extreme sports and BMX urban biking

Ultimately, the role of a parent or guardian is to safeguard a child. Although teenagers are almost adults, they are still immature. Hence, they need protection.

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How to Deal with a Rebellious Teenager

Rebellion is a natural part of being a teenager. However, there is no one-size-fits-all approach to teenage rebellion.

Often, a rebellious teen can disrupt the family unit. As a result, illuminating the main causes of teenage rebellion can be helpful. Hence, the family finds the insight they need to achieve resolution. And mental health professionals can help in this process.

Even though teenage rebellion is normal, the defiant attitudes and unruly behavior of a rebellious teen are hard to handle.

What Causes Teenage Rebellion?

If we could point to one main cause of teenage rebellion, then the issue would be much easier to resolve. Hence, parents would know how to deal with a rebellious teenager on a personal level. And experts would understand how to help them.

However, there is no one main cause of teenage rebellion. Studies have shown that a multitude of genetic and environmental factors contribute to teenage rebellion. By understanding these factors and increasing their awareness, parents can more easily address the challenge of teenage rebellion.

Five Potential Causes of Teenage Rebellion

  1. Teen rebellion can be a way of attention-seeking. Hence, a rebellious teen feels they have to act out to get attention. In addition, they might be jealous of parental focus on younger siblings.
  2. Lack of frontal lobe neural development in adolescents results in immature judgment and greater impulsivity. Hence, poor judgment and impulsive behavioral choices contribute to teen rebellion.
  3. Furthermore, social anxiety and anxiety disorders contribute to teen rebellion. Teens fear being left out of peer-related activities. Indeed, no teen wants to be left behind or experience FOMO.
  4. Peer pressure can lead an adolescent to become a rebellious teenager. Self-destructive behaviors, like substance abuse and unsafe sexual choices, often are a result of a teen wanting to fit in and be accepted.
  5. Hormonal changes can be the cause of rebellious behavior. As teens go through many physical changes, the resulting mood swings may look like teenage rebellion.

A Rebellious Teen Needs Patience and Care

Without a doubt, rebellious teens are a difficult challenge for parents, teachers, and other adult authority figures. However, adults should try not to take their actions personally. When considering how to handle rebellious teenagers, punitive measures are not the answer. Punishments often backfire, leading rebellious teens to become even more defiant. In addition, punitive measures breach communication and trust—elements that are critical to healthy relationships overall.

Teens that rebel often are simply expressing their frustration and pain. From their perspective, they are rebels with a cause. Teens often feel justified when it comes to acts of rebellion. Thus, punishing a young person who has strong beliefs and emotions can make a difficult situation worse.

As opposed to consequences designed to punish a “bad” kid, there are other approaches for helping a rebellious teen. After all, the goal is to get them to channel their energy in healthful ways.

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Strategies to Help a Rebellious Teen

Here are four strategies that parents can take to help a teen who is rebelling.

  1. Develop and delineate a clear set of household rules and expectations. When teens understand the rules of the home and what is expected of them, they are more likely to follow those rules and meet those expectations. This is about establishing positive boundaries for all.
  2. Focus on honest communication by asking questions and listening. By asking questions and listening to a teen’s responses, a parent will learn more about the roots of teen rebellion. Parents may struggle to keep an open line of communication, as many rebellious teenagers are reticent and monosyllabic. However, those walls of silence can be overcome. Empathy builds bridges between people in conflict. If a teen feels heard, they are more likely to open up.
  3. Pick your battles and have patience. When it comes to a rebellious teen, parents need to think about what’s really important to address and what they can let go. Nobody has an inexhaustible supply of patience. Remind yourself to be patient with rebellious teenagers. Indeed, teen rebellion is tough and takes time to address.
  4. Be open to taking the next step and access professional help and support. Many families are reluctant to admit outside the family unit that a child is struggling. However, accessing professional help is often a turning point.

Accessing Professional Help for a Rebellious Teen

When a parent or caregiver feels overwhelmed by the destructive actions and negative attitudes of a rebellious teenager, it can be beneficial to ask for help. Once they become open to such support, parents often realize that there are many viable options.

The four most common options for professional support are the following:

Individual Counseling and Therapy

Teenagers tend to open up when talking to a professional outside the family unit. A counselor or therapist offers a safe space in which a rebellious teen’s issues are addressed.

Family Counseling and Therapy

Family therapy provides a place for the family to process issues in the presence of a trained professional. Therefore, progress is made with all members of the family.

Local Outpatient Treatment

Outpatient treatment provides teens with a formal program for addressing the underlying issues that catalyze rebellious behavior.

Inpatient Treatment at a Teen Treatment Center

During inpatient residential treatment, challenges are treated and overcome through a more intensive process. In inpatient treatment, as opposed to outpatient, a teen lives for a time at a residential facility.

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Approaches for Helping Rebellious Teenagers

The first step in teen treatment is to remove the stigma that overwhelms so many “rebellious teenagers.” Offer acceptance and support. The initial goal of such treatment is to raise self-awareness and generate self-esteem. Hence, a teen develops the strength to look at their behaviors and actions honestly. And the process of change is initiated.

Moreover, a treatment team provides a comprehensive strategy that incorporates clinical, therapeutic, and holistic approaches. Hence, the healing journey addresses the sources of pain behind the destructive behavioral choices of rebellious teenagers.

When it comes to the greater family unit, professional help can restore broken trust and reopen lines of communication. Thus, such care fosters the connection between teens and their loved ones and among the family unit as a whole.

Finally, through parental and professional support that emphasizes acceptance and love, a rebellious teen can find healthy, productive ways to express their opinions and passions.

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


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Neurosci Lett. 2006 Oct 9;406(3):194–9. 

American Psychological Association