Is Your Adolescent Exhibiting "Normal" Teenage Rebellion or Is He/She Headed for a Train Wreck?

In this article, we will discuss key signs and factors that can help you distinguish between normal teenage rebellion versus dangerous behavior. Understanding this difference is crucial for parents, teachers, and anyone working with teenagers.

First, let's define what we mean by normal teen rebellion. During adolescence, it's common for teenagers to push boundaries, seek more independence, and express themselves differently. This phase is a natural part of their development, as they explore their identities and test their own limits. It may involve engaging in minor acts of rebellion, such as experimenting with different styles, challenging authority figures, or questioning societal norms. However, it is important to remember that this rebellious behavior is typically harmless and doesn't pose a significant threat to their well-being.

Now, let's shift our focus to indicators of dangerous behavior in teenagers. Dangerous behavior goes beyond the typical rebellious acts and can have serious consequences. Some warning signs to watch out for include sudden changes in behavior, extreme aggression, self-harm, substance abuse, isolation from family and friends, and persistent disregard for rules and boundaries. It's essential to pay attention to these red flags and take appropriate action to ensure the well-being of the teenager and those around them.

To better differentiate between normal teen rebellion and dangerous behavior, it's important to understand the underlying motivations. Normal rebellion is often driven by a desire for personal growth, independence, and autonomy. Teenagers may engage in rebellious acts as a way to express their individuality and assert their own choices. On the other hand, dangerous behavior is often rooted in deeper issues such as trauma, mental health problems, or peer pressure. Recognizing these motivations can help us respond appropriately and provide the necessary support.

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One of the key factors in managing both normal rebellion and dangerous behavior is effective communication and support. A supportive and open environment allows teenagers to express their feelings and concerns without fear of judgment or punishment. It's crucial to have regular conversations with them, asking open-ended questions, actively listening, and showing empathy. By providing a safe space, we can guide them towards positive choices and help them navigate through challenges they might be facing.

In some cases, when the line between normal rebellion and dangerous behavior becomes blurred, it may be necessary to seek professional help. Mental health professionals, counselors, or therapists can provide valuable guidance and support to both teenagers and their families. They can help assess the severity of the behavior, address underlying issues, and develop appropriate intervention plans. Remember, it's okay to ask for help when needed, as it can make a significant difference in the well-being and future of the teenager.

Building trust and understanding with teenagers is essential in addressing both normal rebellion and dangerous behavior. Show them that you genuinely care, and your intentions are to support and guide them. Avoid judgmental language and instead, validate their emotions and experiences. By fostering a safe and trusting relationship, you can create an environment where they feel comfortable opening up and seeking guidance when needed. Remember, your role is to be a trusted ally, not an authoritarian figure.

It's not just about understanding the difference between normal rebellion and dangerous behavior for ourselves. As responsible adults, we also have a duty to educate others. Share your knowledge with fellow parents, teachers, and community members. Organize workshops or informational sessions to raise awareness about the signs and consequences of dangerous behavior. By spreading this awareness, we can create a supportive and informed network that promotes the well-being of teenagers in our communities.

Establishing clear boundaries is essential in managing both normal rebellion and dangerous behavior. Set realistic expectations and communicate them effectively. Make sure the teenager understands the consequences of their actions and the reasons behind the rules. However, it's equally important to allow them some autonomy and flexibility within these boundaries. Find a balance between providing guidance and giving them space to learn and grow. Clear boundaries help create a sense of security and stability for teenagers.

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While we focus on the challenges and risks associated with teen behavior, let's also acknowledge their strengths. Teenagers possess remarkable resilience and creativity. They have the potential to make positive contributions to society. Recognize their achievements, talents, and interests. Encourage them to channel their energy into activities they are passionate about. By nurturing their strengths and encouraging their personal growth, we can help steer them toward a path of success and fulfillment.

No one can handle the challenges of raising a teenager alone. Building a supportive network is crucial. Connect with other parents, join support groups, or seek guidance from professionals. Share your experiences, learn from others, and offer support to those who might be facing similar struggles. Together, we can create a network of understanding, empathy, and shared resources that strengthens our ability to address normal rebellion and dangerous behavior effectively.

Mental health plays a significant role in teenage behavior. Promote mental well-being by encouraging self-care practices, healthy coping mechanisms, and open conversations about emotions. Encourage teenagers to seek professional help if they are struggling with mental health issues. By prioritizing mental health, we can reduce the risk of dangerous behavior and provide teenagers with the support they need to navigate the challenges of adolescence.

While it's important to differentiate between normal rebellion and dangerous behavior, it's equally crucial to recognize our own limits. We are not expected to have all the answers or be able to solve every problem. It's okay to seek help and involve professionals when necessary. Our role is to support, guide, and provide a safe environment for teenagers. Understanding our boundaries ensures that we can continue to offer the best possible support without feeling overwhelmed.

By fostering open communication, building trust, and seeking professional help when necessary, we can make a positive impact and ensure the well-being of our teenagers.

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Wife feels abandoned by husband and is embarrassed by son's behavior...

 Hi T.,

== > I’ve responded throughout your email below:


Thank you so much for the MOOCT website. Our son is 15 and we love him to bits - he isincredible, and he drives us crazy. Most of what we've found at your site is not news to us, but it's an organized and concrete approach that gives us tools, not idealisms. I am especially grateful for the dialogue you give us to repeat over and over; so much easier to not say the wrong things when we have a script to follow!

The Kid is just starting on High Risk diversion (county program) for multiple unruly filings and escalating behavior over the past 9 months. No drugs (multiple clean tests), no physicial violence, worst "community" crimes are curfew violations (regularly) and a couple of fights (rarely - last >1 year ago). Our major problems with him have been school (passed all classes this semester, at last, but with HUGE support from the school), outright refusal to follow house rules/parental edicts, and "loud and hurtful language" coupled with intimidating behavior (punching walls, slamming doors, blocking path) at the most minor of provocations (ie, the word "No.") In the past eight weeks he's progressed to staying out all night or two, (three occasions). And has stolen money from my husband's car the first two times (~5 bucks or so each time). 

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== > Here you would want to use the strategy entitled “When You Want Something From Your Kid” – Session #3.

This is new behavior around our house; odd as it might sound, he has attempted to respect *some* boundaries to this point. I should say, too, that this is an intelligent and socially well-developed kid that most people mistake for a better-educated young person several years older than he really is. Which means his behavior is willful, and more frustrating.

So we're several weeks past Week 4, and my husband and I are doing *fairly* well. Our son's fuse has gotten shorter; we give the simple "no" and single explanation and off he goes. He usually doesn't even try to negotiate now; just screams some predictable vulgarities as he proceeds to do whatever he wanted to do in the first place. The most recent occasion, yesterday, came after a week of few conflicts and general cooperation with no huge infractions. He had asked Thursday if he could "spend the night anywhere" on Friday and was told no by both parents. Friday, he left while we were at work and called late to ask again if he could spend the night at someone's house, and I told him no. When he (inevitably) raged about how it's not fair and he never gets to blah blah blah, I remembered my rules and told him I wasn't going to argue with him, and that I expected him home by 11pm (legal curfew). He swore again and hung up on me.

He did not come home.

== > Give him a warning in addition to telling him that you expect him to be home by 11:00 PM. “If you choose to ignore your curfew, you’ll choose the consequence. The police will be called. A runaway report will be filed. And I will go to Juvenile Probation and file an incorrigibility complaint.”

When I finally tracked him down today, he insisted that he thought I had reversed my decision during his self-pity party. Let me stress, here: This has *never* happened. And I sure didn't leave any room for misunderstanding last night. I followed the rules to the letter and did not engage in ANY discussion or back-and-forth. Also, he refused to tell me where he was and didn't come home for another five hours.

It seems to me that now he's lost the ability to get us riled up to give him an excuse to take off, he's desperate and turning to sheer invention. Does that seem correct?

== > Yes. We expect this to happen because the child’s ability-to-control-parents is waning.

Right now, of course, he's furious and hostile because I "got the police involved", and they actually called one of his friends this time to see if they could find him. I "got the police involved" the other times, too, but this is the first time they've actively tried to track him down. (Slow weekend here in suburbia, apparently.)

== > Good for you. You’re on track here.

I have three problems with this situation.

First is making sure that the way I'm handling this is correct. Although a part of me is touched by the kid's plea of ignorance, the rest of me remembers that forgetting and being confused and doing things poorly is how kids like this one show rebellion. So I've told him he'll be grounded from all privileges for three days, and that the clock starts ticking when he stops being hostile and stays where he's supposed to be. Is that appropriate?

== > Yes …but, be more specific. “Stop being hostile” is too vague. Plus you did not give a time limit.

Say, for example, “When you stop yelling profanities, the clock will start.”

Second is that my husband, when he gets back home tomorrow from his weekend getaway, will ask me ad nauseum to "let it go" and not punish him. Or punish him for only one day. And let him have his computer. He will "reward" the kid during the grounding period with computer time and money and treats from the store and friends at the house "for just a little while" and etc. He will do this, even though he says he is fully on board with the MOOCT program. How should I handle this?

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== > He may be on board in word, but not in action. Having said this, a weaker plan supported by both parents is much better than a stronger plan supported by only one.

Remember your successes. During your marriage, you and your husband have undoubtedly successfully negotiated many situations-with each of you both giving and taking a little until you reached some middle ground. You can also be successful at ending arguments in front of the children if you really want to. It won't be easy, but it will be rewarding.

Agree on a signal to alert both of you that the conversation is, or is about to, get too heated and needs to be halted. Make a commitment to honor and act on the signal. You might walk away and have an agreed-upon cooling off period. Or set a time to revisit your differences in opinion. Or write down what you're feeling and later share it with your husband, who might better understand where you're coming from.

Create your own family "rulebook." Write clear, reasonable, attainable rules (for both parents and kids) about what behavior is acceptable and what isn't. Your family, like a baseball team, will be more successful when you have clear guidelines.

Don’t go overboard in trying to avoid arguments. Having small squabbles in front of the kids-and then resolving them peacefully-can actually be good for them; it shows that it's possible to disagree with someone you love, and that relationships don't end just because people are quarreling with each other.

Third is that I feel abandoned by my husband and am embarrassed by my son's behavior; when the police officer visited our house this evening to confirm that son was safe and sound, he was very rude to the officer. I apologized to the policeman, but can't help feeling guilty that they have to take time out from protecting our city to be subjected to such rude behavior. I know it's part of their job, but it's so unpleasant. I am ashamed of our home situation. Is it normal to feel this way?

== > Yes.

Re: husband. I’m guessing that at some level you feel as though you are “parenting” two children sometimes – your son and your husband. Plus it appears that your husband wants to remain “the good guy” in your son’s eyes.

Re: son. You need not be embarrassed by your son’s behavior. Remind yourself that he is just a kid who has a lot to learn – not a bad person with evil intentions.

Just keep doing what you’re doing, because you are really on track as far as I can tell! Don’t ignore your successes – and I’m sure there are many.

Thank you in advance for your input. I'm sorry this email is so long, and I appreciate your taking the time to respond to us floundering parents with your expertise and experience.



== > You’re very welcome. It was good to hear from you. Email again in the future if you need some support.

Mark Hutten, M.A.

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