Dealing With Rebellious Teens

Truancy, smoking, breaking curfew, constant bickering, shoplifting – being rebellious is about proudly asserting individuality or deviating from what parents (or the society) like, want or expect. But what’s with this rebellious behaviour? Whose fault is it? As parents, you need to know how to prevent, prepare for and handle your unruly teens.

It’s important to note that teens are naturally rebellious; an argument every now and again does not mean your child is troubled. On the contrary, it means they are developing healthily and have the confidence to express their views and are capable of forming their own opinions.

Teenagers become rebellious for many reasons, we’ve all been through it as young adults. Some are typical, like the frustration of strict discipline at home, hormonal changes, peer pressure and fear of failure over high/unreasonable expectations. Meanwhile, others may have more serious problems at home (e.g. Parents constantly fighting, alcoholic parent, physical and emotional abuse, financial pressures).

While the teenage rebellious phase is normal, you should still look out for red flags of a troubled teen:

  • Communication between the both of you begins to crumble over time and your teen consistently tries to avoid you.
  • Constantly fighting even over trivial issues. Outbursts are common.
  • Your teen is being dishonest and deceptive as they try to lie their way out of deviant actions.
  • They always seem angry and detached from the rest of the family.
  • Abrupt weight gain or loss.
  • Self-harm (e.g. cuts, lacerations, bruises that appear without solid reasons to how or when they occurred).
  • Sudden change in friends.
  • Skipping school often, getting into fights at school, poor grades.
  • Signs of tobacco, alcohol, or drug use.

So what is it they hope to achieve by pushing your buttons? First of all, you need to understand that your kid is in the process of moving away from you. It’s an important part of their growth – wanting to become independent. They may also want;

  • more attention
  • to discover who they are and how they fit into this world
  • to show discontent
  • to disconnect, run away or distract themselves from a troubling issue
  • to be accepted by their peers

The approach you use to handle your teen varies based on the seriousness and type of behaviour they show, but essentially you should:

Spend Quality Time

Some parents are unable to relate to their teens. As a result, they don’t know how to talk or react around them. This awkward situation creates an uneasy vibe between parent and child causing communication between the two to deteriorate. Work on being approachable, flexible and understanding. Spend more time getting to know your teen by having fun together, from time-to-time have meaningful conversations or ask their opinion about something significant in both your lives. When they are comfortable around you they feel more compelled to open up and talk to you, the feeling goes both ways.

Practice Discipline Early On

Set reasonable rules and be clear about them. Make the rules together, discuss and debate healthily; teens are less likely to break rules they themselves helped create. It also shows them you respect their opinion and are open to accept them at the same time.

Be Affectionate And Supportive

Provide the support they need and deserve even when you are disappointed by their behaviour. Constructive criticism and positive reinforcement works better than being judgemental and controlling. The “I told you so” method is also outdated and only invites resentment; try to avoid that however enticing it may be to use it.

Provide More Decision-Making Opportunities

As children grow older, they want to do things themselves without being constantly monitored. Making their own decision allows them to learn and grow even if those decisions are bad. The important thing is to create a safe environment for your teen to take risks for their growth. They’ll still need your guidance and advice along the way; and make sure you’re there to catch them if they fall.

Respect Their Privacy

Teens need their alone time and personal space. Unless you suspect something is suspiciously wrong or see warning signs of rebellious behaviour you shouldn’t invade their privacy. Keep tabs on them; know where they’re going, when they’ll be back and so on. Otherwise, trust your teen to do the right thing and let them know that abusing this trust will result in serious repercussions and a scale-back of existing freedoms.

Give Credit Where Credit Is Due

Children and teens thrive on the good words their parents give them over a job well done. Never withhold acceptance, forgiveness or encouragement because it can help increase your teen’s self-esteem and confidence. It also indicates to them that you care about what happens in their life and appreciate and love them unconditionally.

If your teenager is getting into increasingly difficult situations, you may need help. Rebellion in the teen years is normal, but, if you do identify red flag behaviours, consult a doctor, counsellor, therapist, or a mental health professional for help.

An educational collaboration with Malaysian Psychiatric Association.

Subscribe to our parenting newsletter.