How to Deal with a Rebellious Teenager

conflict management emotional intelligence level with your kids resilience what to say Sep 19, 2023
Five paper airplanes in a line with one straying mirroring how to deal with a rebellious teenager.

Teenagers can turn rebellion into a full-time pursuit, delighting in challenging everything we do, ask, or say. Sometimes, these rebellions are small and relatively harmless–a few sarcastic remarks and eye rolls.

But they can also include behaviors like skipping school, vaping, lying, or stealing, all of which result in longer-term consequences.

This can be heartbreaking. We parents have hopes and dreams for our children. We want what's best for them. We don’t know how to deal with a rebellious teenager defying us.

The first thing to know when dealing with a rebellious teenager is this: Resistance is normal.


How To Deal With Child Resistance:

As a parent, you are the head of the household, as you should be! You have the wisdom to pass along to your teenagers. But if your children feel controlled, they will resist. Teenagers and parents alike fight back when we think our free will is thwarted. In fact, we will even fight back in ways that don't serve us, and so will our teenagers.

If they feel forced to do homework, they will resist, even if they genuinely want to do well in school. If they think you are making them be polite, they will likely resist, even if they genuinely want to come across as respectful, kind people. And if they think you are pushing them to have a certain group of friends, they will resist, even if they would choose those friends themselves.

So when learning how to deal with a rebellious teenager, getting "buy-in" is crucial. Let's look at a five-step process to get started.


Step One: Seek Your Teenager’s Opinions

Encourage your teenager to share their opinion about whatever it is that they are resisting or rebelling against by asking an open-ended and non-judgmental question. Give it some thought and craft a question that truly allows them to express their beliefs. 

Keep this in mind: Your resistance to their words encourages more rebellion. Instead, listen without the urge to argue. Listen silently at first. Later, ask questions, but for now, give them the stage. Let their creative, not-fully-developed teenage brains spout wild theories.

The more absurd, the more important it is to give them the floor. After all, you want to know what your teenagers are thinking. If they say it aloud, and you rebut, they'll still think it, but likely stop saying it.

Giving your teenager a chance to articulate how they think lets out steam. If they can say it without repercussion, they'll feel more in control, lessening the need to rebel.

This takes us to the second step in learning how to deal with a rebellious teenager …


Step Two: Be Curious

Parents often listen with an agenda, as though engaging in a game of verbal ping-pong. The teen says something, and the parent jumps in with a rebuttal, only to have the teen try to score another point.

Instead, drop your agenda and get really curious. Ask questions with the intention of gathering information and not giving information, such as:

  • “You said ____. I didn’t quite understand that. Will you say more?”
  • “I heard you say that I was out of touch. I suppose that if I am, I wouldn’t know. Will you tell me how I’m out of touch?”

It is easier to know how to deal with a rebellious teenager when our teens feel seen and heard.


Step Three: Have Patience

This step is the most important: Once your rebellious teenager has shared their opinions, and you’ve successfully gathered information from them, give the conversation a day or two before you revisit it.

This sends your teenager a message: “I am not trying to control you. You got to share your opinion freely and safely, without repercussions.


Step Four: Level with them 

The next step in learning how to deal with a rebellious teenager is this: level with them. Come back to the conversations and give your teenagers good, truthful information about how the world works.

Be the person who always tells your teenagers the truth. When you level with your teens, you communicate to them you are giving them useful information that is consistent with reality. This works wonders in getting buy-in.


Real-Life Scenarios:

Imagine, for instance, that your teenage daughter is spending time with friends who are not the best influence. They get in trouble at school, they skip classes, and they are generally disrespectful to adults. The more you try to restrict those friendships, the more she lies and sneaks around.


You might say to her, “I have been thinking about what you said about your friends and how much fun they are. I have a handful of friends who probably aren’t the best influence on me, too, but I love them because they make me laugh. Sometimes, I’m not the best version of myself when I am around them, but if someone told me I couldn’t be friends with them, I would fight back too.


“But I do want you to know that if you spend a lot of time with these people, you probably aren’t building friendships with the people who will push you to grow and become the best version of yourself. We have put a lot of emphasis on education, but the truth is that there are a lot of people who didn’t graduate high school, much less college, who have great lives. But even then, who you know matters. The people you spend time with become the bar by which you judge your own life, and they become the people who help you get jobs, who introduce you to future romantic partners, and who go on vacation with you.”


If this step seems daunting, don’t worry, there’s a final step in learning how to deal with a rebellious teenager …


Step Five: Ask Them to Connect the Dots

The last and most important step here is to actually transfer some responsibility to your rebellious teen by asking them to connect the dots between their actions and the outcomes they want in life. Often, teenagers rebel against their parents as a statement, without actually thinking about the long-term consequences. When your teens know they are getting accurate information from you about how the world works, they can begin to contemplate the implications of their behaviors.

This might sound like this:

“I’d like it if you could help me understand what your path forward looks like with these friends. If they are your peer group, what are the teachers going to think about you when it comes time for college letters of recommendation? You can be successful without doing well in school or even going to college, but it does limit your options. And you can be successful without having a powerful network, but that also limits your options. So, can you tell me how you see this playing out for you so that I can understand?”

This puts the responsibility squarely on your daughter’s shoulders. Instead of you controlling her outcomes, and her resisting this control, your rebellious teenager now has to take accountability for her own life vision and life outcomes. 


Need Additional Support?

If you are in need of extra support in parenting your rebellious teen, check out our expanded library of resources. From short videos to downloadable guides to even 14-Day Relationship Reset program, we have something for every struggling parent to help bring the joy back into parenting. Call us today to find out more about our resources that will have an everlasting change on your relationship with your teens!

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