Small children disturb your sleep, big children your life. ~Yiddish Proverb
Angry words. Raised voices. Slammed doors.
“You never let me do anything!” “I hate you!” “You just don’t understand!”
Any parent with teenagers in the house will recognize some of these milder forms of rebellion. Although we’ve all personally experienced these years (or maybe because we’ve experienced them), many of us anticipate with dread “the rebellious teen years”. We struggle to survive as parents. It’s so hard to watch your pride and joy turn into an emotional wrecking ball, and then to have to also deal with the ripple effects that this has on the rest of the family.
So how do we deal with teenage rebellion?
Our first answer, as parents, would be to nip it in the bud. Come down hard and fast. Do whatever it takes to keep our children sweet and innocent.
However, we know time marches on and children grow into adults. We can’t keep our children small or sheltered for the rest of their lives, and we know the process of maturing includes drastic changes during the teenage years (see “What Happened to My Kid” for more on these changes).
Teenage rebellion sounds bad. We talk about it negatively, and we focus on the negative side.
However the teen years bring with it multiple parenting opportunities. Yes, you read that correctly—opportunities! It’s not all bad! In fact, once we understand it, we don’t have to be afraid of it and we can even appreciate it and learn how to capitalize on the many teachable moments that it presents.
What is teenage rebellion?
At its most basic level, teenage rebellion is just a fancy name for children going through the process of moving from dependence to independence. As children move into and through the teenage years, they naturally desire more and more independence. The term “rebellion” means “resistance to or defiance of any authority, control, or tradition.” As they seek their independence through the uncomfortable stages of puberty, the way they go about it can often be awkward and unpleasant for everyone involved.
As hard as it is to lose the innocence of childhood, good parents must look ahead toward the goal of raising honourable adults. With this goal in mind, teenagers’ seeking independence is much more desirable than dependence. The goal is not to squash rebellion but to lead and direct the natural quest for independence. Through this process, children learn how to make decisions and how to take responsibility. They figure out who they are apart from their parents.
How do we handle and appreciate teenage rebellion?
1. Understand it, expect it and welcome it.
Understanding that it’s not only natural, but healthy puts us in a much better place to handle the process of individualization. Expecting it helps us manage our emotions. Welcoming it keeps us on track as our children’s greatest advocates.
2. Maintain open communication.
Ask lots of questions and do lots of listening. Work on providing a comfortable atmosphere for your teenager to feel loved, accepted and understood as they share ask their questions and share their ideas. For more, check out 10 Ways to Increase Communication.
3. Model respect, especially with your teenager.
The good part of rebellion is the desire for independence. The bad part is the defiance and lack of respect. When parents model disrespect in the way they talk to their teenagers, it makes sense that they will mimic that behaviour. The flip side is also true – modelling respect will increase the probability of respectful behaviour.
Think about how you can word your interactions in respectful ways, especially when you’re frustrated. For example, think about what is communicated when you say something like this, “What are you doing? You told me you would do the dishes right after dinner! That was over an hour ago and you haven’t even started! What’s wrong with you?!”
Although it’s a natural reaction, that’s not something you would say to a friend or someone you respect. As true as it is, that type of interaction communicates and models disrespect.
Work towards saying it more respectfully, like, “Hey, it looks like you’re having lots of fun, but you must have forgotten that you promised to do the dishes after dinner. Please take 5 minutes to finish what you’re doing and then get the dishes done.”
4. Include your teenager in solutions
Teenagers are people moving toward adulthood. They want their ideas and plans to be significant just like we do. When there is an ongoing issue of disrespect, what better way to deal with it than to call a meeting to figure it out together?
Make sure you have plenty of time for such an endeavour. Explain the problem, “we’ve been struggling with getting the dishes done every day for a week. I want them done right after dinner, but you seem to be busy doing something else. How can we solve this?”
Then listen. Let them explain as much or as little as they would like. Take the time to really understand what they are trying to say. Ask them how you are contributing the problem as well. Then work together to figure out how both sides can make things better.
When you come up with a plan, write it down so everyone can remember it. Finally, figure out the consequences for both sides for not following the plan.
5. Work toward more decision making opportunities
Your ultimate goal as a parent is to release confident, competent, and responsible adults into the world. This will not happen if you make all the decisions for them.
Brainstorm as many ideas as you can that give more opportunities for your teenager to make decisions for themselves. Figure out which of these your children are ready for, and which ones you can work toward giving them later.
As you give more decisions to your teenagers, explain that you want to give them more freedom as they get older. Also explain that freedom always includes responsibility. Every choice has an outcome. If they choose something foolish, they will have to live with the results of that choice.
As they demonstrate more responsibility and respect, give them more freedom.
6. Catch them being respectful (and explain it to them)
Sometimes children don’t really understand how to be respectful. Sometimes they don’t feel you really notice what they do unless it’s something you don’t like.
Pay attention and watch for any behaviour that demonstrates respect. When they do something kind or helpful, praise them specifically and concisely. Tell them what they did and why it was respectful.
7. Give them time to change
Nobody changes overnight, especially teenagers. Make sure to give them time to change. We are the parents, and we need to be good demonstrations of adults who are big enough to love, accept, forgive, and encourage even when it is difficult.
When you’re dealing with rebellion, make sure you understand it. The solution is not to snuff it out but to help teenagers learn how to make decisions and become independent in healthy ways.
How will you appreciate your rebellious teenager today?