A Guide to help Youth with Rebellion

Vicky was a fourteen-year-old ninth grader struggling to make passing grades in school. He came from a family that was strongly dependent on religious beliefs and values. His parents were well-thought-of by their peers and had positions of leadership in their community

His adolescent years, however, were marked by a spirit of rebellion toward his parents He deliberately did poorly in school, claiming the classes were useless to him. He used alcohol periodically and seemed to delight in coming home in a drunken stupor occasionally just to prove to his parents that he was bold enough to violate their standards of conduct. He reached a point in his adolescence when he announced his freedom from his religious training and declared that he was not sure God even existed.

He entered early adulthood with feelings of contempt for his parents. Once he was living on his own, however, he discovered that his steadfast rebellious views on life were not as valid as he had once thought them to be. At the age of twenty-two Vicky was willing to reexamine the teachings he had been given by his parents from an early age Financially broke, educationally untrained, spiritually empty, and deemed irresponsible by his friends, Vicky was ready to learn from his mistakes causing his parents nearly a decade of turmoil and heartache. 

Problem of Rebellion

To some parents and youth workers, the phrase “teen rebellion” may seem redundant. At times it does seem that adolescence is synonymous with rebellion.

Madhav arrives home from school, and his mother greets him by asking. “How was your day?” He spins on his heels and snaps, “Get off my back!”

 Deepa’s mode of dress has bothered her parents for some time, but they’ve tried to keep their mouths shut. But when she arrived home and their actions a late one Saturday afternoon with three earrings in one ear and four in the other-and a small silver hoop adorning one nostril-they threw up their hands in disgust.

Julie simply won’t go to school. Her parents have tried grounding her, but she just runs away and stays a few nights with friends. She’s even been to court for her truancy, but she professes not to care and prefers to hang out at the mall or at friends’ houses all day.

Tushar, whose father was a pujari in their temple not only refused to go to temple with his mom and dad, but he also managed to get arrested for throwing a brick through door of the temple building. He explained to the police that he and his friends were just “looking for something to do” on a Saturday night.

Such instances would be considered mild by some parents who endure physical assault and verbal abuse and watch their kids become involved in dangerous and destructive behaviors on a much larger scale.

According to Dr. Grace Kellerman, behavior that a parent may interpret as rebellion can fit into three categories.

 When parents are obviously too strict, children rebel to draw attention to the fact that they are growing up. But the same misbehavior much more common among children whose parents are terribly inconsistent. I label the actions of these teens testing out behavior, because they aren’t actually rebelling. They are only trying to find out if the parents care enough (and are powerful enough) to stop them. The bad behavior is very similar, but the reason is just the opposite. Rigid parents need to let up a little and be flexible. Inconsistent parents must tighten up and set some standards. The third condition I call wild behavior, which is exhibited by some children as an attempt to get away from their emotional pain. Many kids have their own variety of pain-broken homes, loss of a parent, etc., so they act out their feelings and their actions are interpreted as rebellion.

Causes of Rebellion

Teenage rebellion occurs for many and varied reasons. In some cases, it is simply an awkward expression of an adolescent’s stumbling progress toward adulthood. However, in many cases adolescent rebellion also stems from a number of roots, among which may be a poor relationship with parents, an effort to communicate, a need for control, a lack of boundaries and expectations, an expression of anger and aggression, and the absence of an honest and vulnerable model.

A Poor Relationship with parents

Rules without relationships lead to-rebellion

Parents may consider themselves strict or lenient, but no matter how few or how many rules a teen is expected to observe, the key is the parents’ relationship with the teen.

A parent can get a child to “behave” by enforcing a hard-and-fast set of rules; Mom or Dad can control a child by running a “tight ship”. But adolescents are often a different matter. When parents try to lay down rules without first establishing a real relationship with their kids, they sow the seeds of rebellion. Sometimes it will be outward rebellion that is easy to spot. but just as often it can be an inward rebellion, in which the young person appears to be obedient but is nursing all kinds of grudges and hang ups, along with an unhealthy self-image and low self-esteem.

An Effort to Communicate

Rebellion is often a reflection of a teen’s effort to communicate what he or she is thinking, feeling or needing. Dr. William Lee Carter deftly has illustrates this fact:

Several years ago while [I was] teaching Sunday school class of high school students one of the teenagers in the class read Colossian 3:8, which states “But now you also, put them all aside anger, wrath, malice, slander, and abusive speech from your mouth”. As soon as these words had been read, another teenage boy who had a reputation for rebellion blurted out,

If I quit doing all those things, I’d never get anything across to anybody. No one takes me seriously if I don’t force my feelings on them.

Though few teem are as aware of the roots of their rebellion as that young man was-and though they seldom communicate what they consciously or subconsciously intend-many nonetheless rebel in the hope that someone will hear and understand their feelings and their needs.

A Need for Control

Everyone-adults included-needs to feel in control of his or her life to some degree. That is among the reasons we are so deeply disturbed by random killings reported in the news, the burglary of one’s own home, and the death of a friend or loved one: they shatter our sense of control.

Adolescents-adults in training-possess the same need for a sense of control. They may respond positively to appropriate parental guidelines and boundaries, but the teen who begins to feel as though his parents control everything he says or does may respond with attempts to shed his parents control (by repeatedly breaking curfew, for example) or control things himself (perhaps by using alcohol or doing other things his parents have forbidden). If parents attempt to exert control through threats, coercion, or physical restraint, the teen may feel that he is being forced to either rebel or to sacrifice all control over his own life.

A Lack of Boundaries and Expectations 

Dr. G. Keith Olson, author of Counseling Teenagers, writes

Teenagers raised in overly permissive homes… may be just as rebellious as those from restrictive homes, although usually for different reasons. Youth from overly permissive homes may rebel against the lack of codes and expectations. In both home environments, there has probably been a years-long pattern of discouragement, lack of affirmation and direction from family and much self-criticism. By the time these children enter adolescence, they usually have very serious questions about their sense of worth, value and whether they belong. 

An Expression of Anger and Aggression 

Some psychologists and researchers have linked rebellion and destructive behaviors to “aggressive impulses that are turned inward.” The teen may be angry at his or her circumstances (parents’ divorce, death of a parent, etc.), at someone in particular (an absent father, an abusive relative, etc), or even at God. This anger, usually suppressed, can lead to rebellious impulses or acts. (See also (1) A Guide to help Youth with Anger | LinkedIn)

The Absence of an Honest, Vulnerable Model

Ronald P. Hutchcraft writes

Kids don’t have much respect for parents who are “never wrong [Parents who] are never wrong, never apologize, or never seek forgiveness. . . seem unapproachable. . . Another reason why teens reject parental authority is that they don’t think their parents set a good example for them. They feel that parents expect one thing of them but do not practice what they preach.

They want their parents to be good models for them-to show them by their own lives how they as children should live and respond to various situations

 Effects of Rebellion

As has been said, all adolescents are likely to rebel in one way or another. Rebellious thoughts and behavior are not only common, but they are also natural. Such rebellious tendencies can even be beneficial in helping teens to grow toward independence and their parents to adjust their expectations and practices. However, prolonged rebellion can be both dangerous and harmful to both parent and child.

Dangerous Pursuits

Rebellion that is expressed in wrongdoing (alcohol and drug abuse, vandalism, etc.) bears many dangers for youth. The risks of such rebellion are many, as author Linda Peterson makes clear:

You no doubt remember your own teen turmoil-the arguments with parents over clothes, friends, the state of your room, your schoolwork, your future. Parents and teens are still at it. Only now, the stakes are higher. . . Fifteen-year-olds are going to “drink-all-you-can” parties, marijuana is five or ten times stronger than it was 15 years ago, and the consequences of casual sex can be deadly.


In his book Teenage Rebellion, Carter writes

The typical haughty, arrogant attitude of most rebellious teenagers suggests anything but depression. However,

one of the ground rules of human behavior is that the overexpression of emotions often is a strong indicator of more serious, underlying emotional discomfort.

This is the case in the rebellious teenager.

Dissatisfaction is frequently substituted as a synonym for the term depression. Rebellious teenagers are frequently dissatisfied with various aspects of their lives. One teenage girl said “I can’ tell you how many things are wrong in my life. I can’t get along with my parents. I’m constantly in trouble at home. At school, my teachers act like I’m some sort of snob. They treat me like a juvenile delinquent. . . I know I’m going nowhere in life, but don’t know how to stop. In fact, I’m not sure I want to stop.”

Other people characterized her as self-centered, conceited, arrogant, and difficult to manage-and she certainly showed those traits. But the term that described her real feelings was not arrogant, but depressed. See also (1) A Guide to Help Youth with Depression | LinkedIn)


 Rebellious teens also experience a sense of alienation as a result of their attitudes and actions. They come to feel alienated from their parents, from their teachers, from school officials, from society in general-even from their friends.

Their behavior and demeanor often cause people to avoid them, and the rebellious teen is seldom oblivious or inattentive to such reactions.

The girl quoted by Carter above also said, “The only teenagers who will have anything to do with me are the ones who are always in trouble, just like me. Ironically, such a sense of alienation often leads to more-not less-rebellion.


Rebellious teens are often plagued by guilty feelings.

They know the wrongness of their actions. They know the pain they cause their parents and others who care about them. They often understand their behavior to be disobedience against God too. But they don’t stop their rebellious behavior. They may be determined not to give in to their parents. They may be afraid to show any sign of weakness or vulnerability. They may simply be unable to face the underlying causes of their rebellion. Consequently, they often deny their guilt-and in so doing, invite more of it (See(1) A Guide to Help Youth with Guilt | LinkedIn)

Anxiety and Fear

Carter writes

Whether or not rebellious teenagers will acknowledge it, they are fearful of many things.

. . . [T]hey may fear the eventual results of their rebellious actions. Many rebellious teenagers fear they will never outgrow their argumentative ways and will find themselves in perennial hot water with others. Some teenagers fear they will never be understood and will be doomed to relationships marred by conflict. . . 

Anxiety may be shown as follows:

  • Frequent complaints of physical illness including headaches, stomachaches, and sleep disturbances
  • Feelings of panic that result in uncontrolled emotional expression
  • Unrealistic preoccupations or irrational beliefs about others
  • Intense emotional displays that go beyond what the situation calls for
  • Becoming numb to the emotions of others for fear of further emotional hurt
  • Assuming that the worst will always happen
  • Holding emotions within to the point that bodily tension becomes uncomfortable.

 While the reactions listed above do not exhaust the possible effects of rebellion, they do illustrate the unpleasant and destructive potential of teen rebellion-not only to the parents but to the teen himself or herself.

 Response to the Problem of Rebellion

 Olson warns that “counseling rebellious and delinquent youth is a very difficult, slow and often frustrating task. Success might be marginal at best. Counselors will do well to keep in an active prayer and fellowship life. Constant contact with God will empower and guide a [adults] as they work with these special teenagers.” Though attempting to help and guide a rebellious youth is indeed a challenge, the following may help a sensitive, patient youth leader, teacher, or parent:


Invite dialogue. Allow the young person to vent his or her feelings and to talk without interruption or condemnation. Rebellious teens are unaccustomed to anyone really listening, they expect criticisms, platitudes, and advice. Surprise him or her by really listening and listen with the eyes as well as the ears. Look for nonverbal communication; watch the eyes, the gestures, the posture. Use what you see to help the young person better express what he or she feels.


My characteristic way of approaching behavioral problems” says Carter, “is to consider matters from the teenager’s point of view. Although I am not likely to agree with the teen in all areas of concern, my knowledge of his or her viewpoint provides invaluable information that I can eventually use in providing a beneficial response.” Try to see things through the eyes of the teen.

Try also to communicate your understanding and empathy by:

  •  Being available to the youth
  • Listening in order to understand
  • Making eye contact
  • Leaning slightly forward in your chair
  • Nodding to indicate understanding
  • Reflecting key statements (So, you’re saying. . . ” “That must have made you feel. . .”)
  • Waiting patiently through silence, anger, or tears.


Many parents and other adults fear that if they openly express love and appreciation to a rebellious teen, it will be interpreted wrongly as an endorsement of his or her behavior. On the contrary, sincere affirmation and appreciation is a key to reaching such a young person. You may express appreciation for a rebellious teen’s honesty, willingness to talk things out, sense of humor, intelligence, smile, voice, etc. Be prepared, however, for such expressions to be greeted with suspicion or with attempts at manipulation. Still, no matter what happens seize every opportunity to communicate sincere acceptance and affirmation to the teen.


A rebellious youth is unlikely to acknowledge his or her need for direction. nor to respond to it if it is given. However, the sensitive and discerning adult may be able to offer help in the following ways: 

  1. Help the youth identify and express the reasons for the rebellion. Patiently talk through the underlying causes (which may come as a surprise to both of you). This may take a long time-months, even years-but it is crucial.
  2. Explore with the youth what circumstances might make rebellion unnecessary. The most likely response, of course, is, “When my parents trust me,” or “When Morn and Dad get off my back. ” Help him or her become more searching and more specific than that, however Under what circumstances might the rebellion conceivably be rendered unnecessary?
  3. Involve the parents. Marshall Shelley quotes one youth leader who said, “We’re finding more and more that we need to get the whole family involved in counseling. For us to deal just with the one who’s knocked on the office door or just the one who’s being pointed at is not usually helpful at all.”
  4. Work toward a “negotiated agreement.” Help the teen, parent(s), or other significant adults to discuss the following:
  • Identifying negotiables and non-negotiables. For example, premarital sex and drug abuse are nonnegotiable; a loving parent cannot approve or allow such behavior. Limit, however-or certain music styles or modes of dress-might be negotiable.
  • Spelling out expectations. Parents and teens need to be explicit about their expectations. Parent. “Divya, I expect you home by ten o’clock; not ten-thirty or even ten-ten” Teen: “Dad, I don’t expect you to be at every badminton match, but I think you should make it to all my Interschool matches, at least.”
  • Attaching specific responses to behaviors. Parents often set their teens up for rebellion by responding to a teen’s behavior out of anger or disapproval. By attaching specific responses to behaviors, parents and the teens can sometimes avoid resentment and bitterness. If both parties know that skipping school will result in a teen being grounded for a specific period of time is not always being given out by angry parents but is more clearly a choice (though a poor one) that the teen himself or herself is making.
  • Outlining a long-term plan for dealing with the roots of the rebellion. Remember that addressing teen rebellion is likely to be a long and often frustrating process: Parents and other adults who care about the youth can help over the long run by instituting some long-range plans,

such as those suggested by William Lee Carter:

  • Show your teen, through words and behavior that you understand his or her viewpoint.
  • Keep criticism to a minimum and use it only after you have actively listened.
  • Walk away from arguing but be firm in your decisions.
  • Maintain an open mind. Don’t insist you are always right.
  • Use proper timing when making negative, but necessary, statements.
  • Refrain from trying to emotionally overpower your teen. You won’t win.
  • Give your teenager a voice in the decision-making process.
  • Keep your comments brief.
  • Allow your teenager to live with consequences of his or her behavior.
  • Show a willingness to approach your child rather than waiting for him or her to approach you.


Keep in mind that a teenager cannot be coerced into submission to his or her parents; he or she must be convinced that rebellion is not the best way to respond to whatever is lacking (nor to fulfill the needs) in his or her life. The young person must become an active participant in addressing the most prominent contributing factors to the rebellion and in eliminating the perceived need for such behavior. This can, of course, be a long (in fact, life-long) process.


In cases of severe rebellion, particularly rebellion involving alcohol and drug use, running away, premarital sex and other dangerous behaviors, a qualified counselor should be involved (with parental permission) at the earliest opportunity.

Was this article helpful to you…? if yes, do subscribe and share in your connections, so that it reaches all who has a young person with rebellion to care for. If you have any questions related to rebellion or any problems faced by young people, write to us at

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Bijo Joseph is the founder of Bijoyful Foundation, a faith-based NGO (reg. 357152/sec. 8 co.) that aims to deliver positive changes in the lives of young people troubled with adverse mental health, addiction or other life challenges through range of strength-based, recovery and livelihood programs and support offered by counsellors, social workers and volunteers. He has the youth leadership experience of 17 years and with educational foundation from TISS, Mumbai & IIM Calcutta.

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