At What Age Are Children the Most Rebellious?

Portrait of brooding teenage boy
Teen rebellion isn't always about bucking authority. (Image: Polka Dot Images/Polka Dot/Getty Images)

According to Dr. Peter Ernest Haiman, a child rearing expert and therapist, a child's need to develop a sense of autonomy is particularly strong between 1 and 4 years old. While parents should expect children to go through similar rebellious stages as they grow and want to become more independent, in an article for “Psychology Today,” author and psychologist Dr. Carl Pickard points out that serious rebellion usually occurs at the beginning of adolescence, between the ages of 9 and 13.

Asserting Independence

Kids often challenge adult authority in the pursuit of more independence. While their actions may be deliberate, the intent isn’t necessarily to be mean and spiteful or to incur their parents’ disapproval. Unfortunately, an adolescent's rebellious acts can sometimes lead to high-risk and even self-destructive behavior. Pickard advises parents to encourage a young teen who no longer wants to be treated like a child to talk it out instead of acting out.

Asserting Self

The adolescent and teenage years are a time when youths are trying to understand their place in society. Besides trying to establish self-identity, peer pressure becomes stronger throughout the middle and high school years, putting a young person under more stress. Parents, schools and communities can help adolescents develop a positive self-image by providing continuous support and being involved in their lives, says the website Growing Healthy Kids: A Guide for Positive Child Development.

Being Supportive

Disciplining a young teen before hearing her out could make her feel angry and rebellious. Don’t just talk to your child when you disapprove of something she’s done. Give a teenager a chance to explain first. Also, make it a point to let her know when you are proud of her, counsels clinical psychologist Dr. Amy Bobrow Gross in an article published on WebMD. It's important to let your child know she can count on you for your understanding and support even when she breaks the rules.

Encouraging Independence

Your child might not always go about things in the way you want, but every experience he encounters is an opportunity for learning. In an article for “Parents” Magazine, John Davis, a licensed clinical social worker and author of "Don't Take It Personally: A Parent's Guide to Surviving Adolescence," explains that kids usually start exerting their independence by the time they enter middle school. Often kids act out by testing boundaries. Although it’s a natural instinct for a parent to want to protect a child, being overprotective can actually do more harm than good, as making an adolescent feel incapable can lead to defiance. Giving kids freedom to test the waters helps them learn how to handle what comes their way in life.

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