Focus on the Family

Teen Rebellion

by Pam Woody

The topic of teen rebellion usually triggers some kind of emotional response. It can ignite fear in the hearts of parents who have children on the brink of adolescence; it can prompt both defensiveness and despair in the hearts of parents struggling through the teen years; and it can inspire a sigh of relief for parents who now have adult children. Whether your teen is opposing your authority or God's, rebellion is never easy to deal with.

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Teen rebellion is behavior with a reason

Youth specialist Tim Sanford encourages parents to realize that children always do things for reasons. He explains that many times parents don't know the real reason behind a teen's behavior. He says, "God didn't make us random beings, so our behavior (even rebellious behavior) is stemming from a reason. It's important to get to the ‘itch' (core reason) behind the ‘scratch' (outward behavior or attitude)." Whether dealing with basic issues such as respect or complex issues such as at-risk behavior, parents sometimes struggle to understand the difference between healthy teenage autonomy and blatant teen rebellion. What looks like rebellion may actually be a teen's natural "itch" for greater independence.

Why is my teen struggling?

In his book Losing Control & Liking It, Sanford offers some explanation about the struggles most parents face with their teens. He writes:


Your teenager is in the process of moving away from you. Therapists have a term for this: developmental individuating. It means your child is doing the following:

These phrases sound nice and inviting when they crop up on a psychology test covering the "developmental theories" chapter. But they don't always sound so positive and gentle when they're lived out in your family room or kitchen.

Still, the theory is right: Your teenager is separating from you and gravitating toward his or her peer group. This process is normal, natural and necessary. Fight it and you'll lose. The solution is to work with it as well as you can — by understanding what's yours to control and what isn't.

What can I do during this season?

The realization that your teen is "in the process of moving away from you" carries with it a blend of panic and relief. There's panic in feeling a loss of control, and there's relief in knowing that your teen is in healthy pursuit of an independent adult life. Recognize that you're not alone in your struggles as a parent during this process, and be open to seeking outside support or counsel.

Focus on finding what hurt motivates the rebellion in your teen, then commit to prayer and forgiveness as the first steps in restoration.

Dr. Dobson encourages parents, "Don't panic; stay on your child's team, even when it appears to be a losing team, and give the whole process time to work itself out."


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