Friday, 3 November 2017

Rebellion in youth is not an act of independence. It is really an act of dependency.

Although the young person thinks rebellion is an act of independence, it actually never is. It is really an act of dependency. Rebellion causes the young person to depend self-definition and personal conduct on doing the opposite of what other people want.
That's why the antidote for rebellion is the true independence offered by creating and accepting a challenge - the young person deciding to do something hard with themselves for themselves in order to grow themselves. The teenager who finds a lot of challenges to engage with, and who has parents who support those challenges, doesn't need a lot of rebellion to transform or redefine him or herself in adolescence.
To what degree a young person needs to rebel varies widely. In his fascinating book, "Born to Rebel" (1997), Frank Sulloway posits that later born children tend to rebel more than first born. Some of his reasoning is because they identify less with parents, do not want to be clones of the older child or children who went before, and give themselves more latitude to grow in nontraditional ways. So, parents may find later born children to be more rebellious.

Many high school rebellions that I see occur as a result of delayed adolescence, the young person dramatically rebelling at last to liberate himself or herself from childhood dependency on parental approval for always being the "good child."
For example, only children are often slower to separate from parents because of strong attachment and protracted holding on by both sides. Finally in high school these young people, with graduation into more independence looming a year or two ahead, may need to initiate late stage rebellions to get the separation and differentiation and autonomy they need to undertake this next momentous step.
This is painful and scary for parents. At this older age, risk taking can be more dangerous, while they miss the loss of closeness and compatibility with their son or daughter that they have enjoyed for so many years.
What parents need to remember at this point is that the young person is just as scared and pained as they are. So their job is to allow more independence while expecting commensurate responsibility, staying empathetic during disagreements, and providing calm and clear guidance about any significant risk taking that may going on.
Having dethroned parental authority for leading her life and supplanted it with her own authority, she finds herself rebelling against it. It's like the young person is saying: "Nobody is going to order me around, not even me!"
For example, the young person knows he has to be on time for a job, but he can't make himself get up in the morning. The young person knows she has to study, go to class, and turn in assignments, but she can't make herself do the college work. Both he and she know they shouldn't drink so much at parties because of how they act and what they let happen, but in the company of friends they can't make themselves stop. The old Walt Kelly quote really captures this conflicted age: "We have met the enemy and they are us."
What can parents do at this point? They must let the consequences of the young person's resistant choices play out and not interfere. How to end this rebellion against self-interest and accept their leadership authority in life is the last challenge of adolescence. It must be met before young adulthood can truly begin.
Rebellion starts in early adolescence with the young person resisting parental authority by saying: "You can't make me!" Rebellion ends in the last stage of adolescence, trial independence, with the young person resisting personal authority by saying: "I can't make me!"
Excerpts from the article by Carl. E. Pickhardt in Psychology Today


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