Symptoms of Teenage Rebellion

By Chris Hammond, MS, IMH

Teenage rebellion is not just about skipping class, staying out past curfew, or smoking anymore, now the rebellion has taken on new forms and looks considerable different from the past. Understanding the early warning signs of teenage rebellion as opposed to normal development can make the difference not only in your relationship with the teen but in their lives as well. As a mother, teacher and counselor of teens, I have observed three main areas of rebellion in teens. Each of these areas is as important as the next and should be addressed.

Authority. As part of the normal developmental process of a teenager growing into adulthood, teens become increasing aware of the numerous authority figures in their lives. For a teen, the number of authority figures seems to multiply from parents to coaches to teachers to police officers to store managers to even older teens. While during childhood the authority figures were for the most part respected, for some teens they all of a sudden seem to become disrespected as the child ages. Rebelling against authority is open defiance of the rules established whether it is at home, school, athletic field or work. This rebellion may be obvious or it may be secretive, either way it is rebellion against an authority figure. The teen maybe staying out all night, not going to school, drag racing, sneaking out of the house, running away, drinking and driving, stealing from an employer, school or home, or destruction of property to name a few of the big ones. Also look for the not so obvious rebellion symptoms such as rolling of the eyes, not making eye contact, intentionally dragging out an instruction, sleeping instead of working, and name calling.

Peers. It may seem strange that this category would be included as a type of rebellion; however some teens do not have issues with the authority figures in their lives but rather with their peers. It is normal for teens to experiment becoming friends with different peer groups especially as their interests and activities change. Some teens do well with multiple peer groups while other teens struggle to fit into one peer group. The rebellion begins at teens struggle to fit into a peer group that is not accepting of them so they act out against that group. This can look like bullying on the surface and can result in fighting, backstabbing, and name calling. Some teens switch peer groups repeatedly as a way to prevent anyone from coming too close to them. In the end, they may experience isolation and loss of friends. Other teens identify so strongly with one group, a gang, to the point that they are antagonistic to others who are not a part of their group. All of this is rebellion towards their peers.

Self. As teens struggle with forming their identity separate and apart from their parents, often times they do not like what they see. Instead they began a self-loathing process that can rapidly become harmful behavior. Their rebellion against themselves displays as hatred for how they appear, how they think, how they act and what they have become. In order to feel better about themselves, they often engage in dangerous behavior to bring relief to the pain they feel. This self-harming behavior can be cutting, excessive piercings, binging/purging, drugs (illegal and prescription abuse), gambling, alcohol use, and excessive risk taking.

If any of these areas sounds familiar, don’t lose hope. The good news is that when rebellion is handled correctly, the impact on the teen’s life can be long-lasting. Look for the article titled, “What to Do If Your Teen Rebels” for ideas on how to properly handle the rebellion.


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About the author- Chris Hammond is a Registered Mental Health Counselor Intern at LifeWorks Group w/ over 15 years of experience as a counselor, mentor & teacher for children, teenagers & adults.

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