Are Teenagers Really More Rebellious?
The adolescent is continually getting a bad rap.
They are discussed in terms of emotional volatility, instability, poor judgement, and sometimes even immature immorality. There are a multitude of rationales as to why adolescents are unpredictable, irrational, and rebellious.
But the truth is, most teens are simply trying to fulfil their goals socially and academically while discovering who and what they want to be and how to get there.
What is it that is so confounding about adolescence that makes them see to be rebellious, even when the behaviors they exhibit may be labelled later as bad choices, but would not be seen as volitional disrespect?
There are a multitude of issues about this time in development that create biological, social, and intellectual conundrums for even the most average and middle of the road teen.
For starters, examine the strictly biological component of adolescence from an evolutionary perspective. Individual physical development during adolescence is incredibly variable and a major determinant of virtually all things social. Consider, for example, the varying paths of two girls who start puberty at different times.
For the female that starts puberty at the age of 10, the responses of those in her environment to her biologically sexual development precedes her understanding of interactional sexuality.
The intentions and behaviors of those in her environment will change and can be confusing for a girl who has the social development of a fourth grader. Cognitively, a 10 year old does not have the ability to understand the sexual undertones of a society that judges anyone exhibiting physical maturity.
She is thrown into the adult arena of innuendo and natural selection before she has the ability to comprehend the nuances. She interprets the interactions from the context of a child seeking attention and approval, which may set her up first as a victim, and later as perceived rebellious female seeking power through sexuality.
Next, consider the plight of the female who reaches physical maturity at a later point during adolescence. These females may be invisible to their sexually maturing and socially preoccupied peers.
In order to compete within social arenas for the attention of dominant males, these females may need to compensate for their lack of indicators of biological physical maturity by engaging in behavioral attempts at maturity.
Why Teenagers Appear Rebellious
Unfortunately, the behavioral markers of adulthood that are most publicized and promoted through the media are not accountability and responsible thought and action, but rather are those behaviors that are “age constrained” or risk associated such as driving, sex, smoking and drinking. But some females who hit puberty at a later age are able to take full advantage of the experiences of their earlier maturing counterparts.
They may be able to move from physical immaturity to a place of sexual power without succombing to an interim stage of victimization.
The expectation is that along with the physical maturity, there should be a commensurate maturity in thought. But these do not necessarily coincide.
So what about males who are trying to compete during the harried social adolescence? Those who mature faster than their peers are typically seen in a positive social light. The expectation is that along with the physical maturity, there should be a commensurate maturity in thought.
But these do not necessarily coincide.
The focus of the hormonally driven pubescent brain becomes geared towards seeking those females who will be receptive.
Peacocking becomes a means through which to attract the attention of potential partners. One way for young males to show that they are a worthy mate is to exhibit their independence through what are considered rebellious acts. They play into the age old philosophy that females are attracted to the “bad boy.” And guess what…young and immature females often are.
What other factors play into this belief that teens are more rebellious? It may help to define who they are more rebellious than. Are teenagers more rebellious than children? In a different way, yes. Rebellion in a child is typified by an emotional upheaval because the child does not have the resources to act.
Most teens would not stomp their foot, pout, or throw themselves on the floor in a tantrum as a marker of disagreement.
Teens simply willfully engage in the forbidden behavior. The disregard for parental orders is based in the fact that unlike children, teens do have access to resources which make the rebellious act a choice. It makes logical sense that teens are more rebellious than they were during their childhood.
With age comes the awareness of the limited time they have within the safety and the confines of the parameters defined by their parents.
Because teens are in the unique position in most households of guided freedom, they test the boundaries to determine their own comfort levels within societal norms. Whether this is played out through coming home late for curfew by fifteen minutes or three days is a function of the individual in his or her own environment.
This exploration of self determination is a critical period during which teens to get to understand personal inner workings and how best they can function effectively in within their own systems.
What may be seen as rebellion could be reclassified as the attempt to define what is self.
For example, does the anxiety about being late for curfew make the extra time in the company of peers unbearable, or are those extra minutes enjoyed without a twinge of concern for the worried parent waiting up at home?
What may be seen as rebellion could be reclassified as the attempt to define what is self, based upon a multitude of influencing factors including family, peer and individual expectations.
Why “Rebellion” Is Necessary
The truth is, while most teens engage in moments of rebellion, those with a firm platform held up by strong family, school, and community systems do not stray far from the expectations of healthy choices laid down for them.
The time period between childhood and independence is conducive to testing limits and finding personal zones of comfort. So of course, there will be times where differences in opinions, behavioral expectations and actions will not coincide, thereby being labeled as moments of rebellion.
But perhaps as parents we need to consider carefully the barometers against which we weigh the affronts to our carefully constructed rules.
Is it better for our teens to determine themselves that they are uncomfortable when they stray so far over the line, or is it better for us to hover so closely that our teens cannot see, let alone approach the line? It is a question of trust and maturity.
Can a teen really know him or herself to be mature, willfully making good decisions, when never given the opportunity to choose the wrong path? It is only through opportunity to have the experience that our teens can internalize responsibility and trust themselves to make the better decisions.
Like it or not, our teen’s self-definition lies through the door on the other side of adolescent rebellion.
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