Should You Worry about Your Rebellious, Nonconforming Teenager?

Should You Worry about Your Rebellious, Nonconforming Teenager?

The stereotype of the troubled teenager is the adolescent who is rebellious and is fighting against the conventions and standards of their parents and the rest of society. When many adults think about teenagers and picture the “typical” teen, the image that may pop into their mind is that of the long-haired, drug-using hippy, the gang member who uses drugs and engages in gratuitous violence, or the tattooed adolescent who has nose rings and seems bent on upsetting all adults.

But are these teens the norm or are they atypical teenagers who give the rest of the adolescent population a bad reputation?

The fact is that only a minority of adolescents rebel against their parents or society at large. Most teens enjoy a relatively smooth teenage period, and while they might not always see eye-to-eye with their parents or teachers, they are not intent on making life miserable for all adults.

But even with those teens who might be legitimately labeled as rebels, what passes for rebellious and oppositional behavior may really be about learning to be their own person. So much of what goes on in the life of a middle teenager – those kids between 14 and 16 – may be more about learning to be their own person than purposely trying to go against social conventions.

Kids who take risks, by getting tattoos their parents don’t like, having jewelry in various parts of their anatomy, or taking on the behaviors and attitudes of groups far different from those of their family, may be attempting to assert some of their own ideas while trying to figure out in what direction they are headed.

I have talked to many parents of teens who were admittedly embarrassed by their teen’s choices. Those choices might be in different areas – hair style, clothing, body ornaments, friends, use of illegal substances, and even illegal behaviors. But these parents thought there was something deviant about their out-of-step teens. So often these parents are quick to reassure others that “That’s not the way I brought her up.”

Which, of course, is undoubtedly true. Many parents of adolescents would like to make sure their child never deviates from the conventional behavior and attitudes that are the norm in their family. Some even try to rule with an iron fist and force their teens to comply with parental demands and expectations. While it might easier – and less embarrassing – to make sure your teen never strays from the conventional norms of the family, this would not necessarily result in healthier young adults.

In fact, the opposite might be true.

Most teenagers, it is safe to say, certainly want fewer restrictions, more independence, and the freedom to choose to take some risks. A good many teens see the conventions of their family and their family’s friends as boring and unimaginative. If parents can handle the mild rebelliousness that some teens need to exhibit without clamping down too hard on their need to be different, things can be relatively easy for both parents and teens.

But, if adolescents are handled with too many restrictions and the reins held too tightly, this may encourage greater rebellion. Instead of having a certain amount of freedom to figure out who they are, they may expend a great amount of youthful time and energy going against the authority represented by their parents.

The bottom line, then, is that teenagers who display a little rebellion and sometimes take some risks by choosing their own ways of doing things, in the long run may become individuals with a better idea of who they are. Having had the opportunity of trying on different behaviors, they are not forced into any one way of being – which might happen if they are in an on-going struggle with adult society.

But this requires you to tolerate the teenager who wants to do his own thing and wishes not to be stuck in “old-fashioned” ways of living his or her life. Teens who have been allowed the freedom to rebel and seek their own path to independence often settle into an adult persona that is – as we usually find out when our teens graduate into adulthood – uncomfortably like our own.

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