When your Child Rebels

It ain't good to be complacent or cowed down by your child's mutiny

Angry childRita Samuel [name changed] is a 27-year-old fashion designer based in one of India’s high-powered metros. She has a powerful memory of herself when she’s a headstrong teenager. “It was a rainy and windy day. I had to walk to my tuition class, a couple of kilometres away from where I lived,” She recalls: “As I was leaving home, my mother advised me to grab an umbrella. ‘Don’t wear those horrible shoes,’ she said emphatically, pointing to my high heels. I was in the process of putting on my more sensible leather loafers, but after hearing the tone of my mother’s voice, I threw the shoes, back into my closet, slipped my feet into my high heels and set off for class without the umbrella.”

It was a defiance Rita paid bitterly for, having been almost bed-ridden for weeks afterwards with a severe flu. “I knew mother’s advice was for the best,” admits Rita. “Ironically, if she hadn’t said anything to me, I would have dressed exactly the way she’d have wanted me too!”

Why it happens

At first, Rita’s problem was judged to be the usual rebelliousness that is often characteristic of one’s teenage years. We all tend to experience that phase in our lives which thankfully passes. Her parents too had hoped that it would fade away with age and maturity, but no.

“When I joined an upscale fashion boutique, I loved the job,” she confides. “Yet, I still couldn’t bring myself to be courteous to my co-workers or boss. Every time someone asked me how their design looked, I’d snap and insult them, even if I liked their sense of style very much.”

When Rita decided to take professional help, she realised that her constant need to rebel was the direct result of her parents enforcing countless rules and regulations on her since childhood. She had been propelled to dance, attend music, drama, tennis and chess classes ever since she was seven. No one had asked for her opinion, even when she didn’t care much for some of the extra-curricular activities that she was being forced to undertake.

Rebel within

We all rebel once in a while. Rebellion is a teenager’s first initiation into the threshold of adulthood. It allows you to gingerly test the waters, spread your wings and discover your true self. Unfortunately, there is another kind of rebellion that is severely abusive and not at all healthy.

If you find yourself suppressing your emotions and constantly venting your anger on near and dear ones, or battle incessantly against authority of any kind and cannot hold down a satisfying job for a reasonable duration, or when common courtesy in social situations is proving a Herculean task, you know that it is time to seek help. Identifying and learning to cope with severely rebellious behaviour either in yourself or others could salvage relationships and even save lives.

Message behind the mutiny

Today, rebelliousness is not unusual – it surfaces even in traditional Indian households in which children are reared on the mantra of respecting their elders.

Is there an impish devil who sits on our shoulder, leading all our actions astray? The fact is that every rebellious person has a sad story buried away deep inside them.


Studies prove that rebels are not born, but forced into defiance by an alienating society. Much of their trauma reaches as far back as their childhood or pre-school years.

Karan [name changed] is a television salesman working in a private firm. This is his sixth job in as many years. Previously, he held varied positions, from corporate secretary, filing clerk, tele-marketing agent to sales representative. As a child, Karan was a dyslexic. “I was a slow reader and couldn’t recognise certain letters. I would, therefore, refuse to copy my homework from the board and my teacher assumed that I was being stubborn and rebellious.”

What followed was a nightmare. “I would receive constant reprimands from both my teachers and parents. My father even tried to beat me into submission.” It took a long time for them to discover the fact that Karan wasn’t trying to be deliberately difficult. By then, it was too late. Karan had grown into the proverbial “bad boy.” “I hated all teachers unconditionally,” he says. “I would do anything to disrupt classes and not show up for exams. Even while working today, I cannot buckle under authority and that has been my nemesis.”

“You’ll find that even when someone is angry or lonely, or has suffered a severe loss, this tendency can crop out of the blue,” says Dr Gunal Mithra, a psychologist and self-help expert based in New Delhi. “Try your best to reach out to them and offer your emotional support. If it’s not addressed properly, rebellious behaviour can spill over into adulthood where it becomes a compulsive disorder.”

Rebellious people react to grief in the only way they know how – by becoming unbearably reckless. “Yet underneath all the bravado, there’s still a very fragile and forlorn human being calling out for help,” says Dr Mithra.

The gender equation

In our society, when a boy rebels, it is often considered a natural part of the process of growing up. How many times have we heard parents excuse the destructive antics of their sons with a smile or shrug that implies “boys will be boys?” Indeed, boys are expected to be rebellious, for there exists a belief that they must work the excess energy out of their systems. Not girls! This is wrong.

Points to Ponder

Never be complacent or cowed down at your child’s rebelliousness. You may be tempted to ignore it by pretending it’s just a phase, but remember it could lead to far serious consequences such as alcohol dependence/abuse, underage smoking, and even drugs.

Here are handy tips to tackle the rebel in your child gently, and while it is still relatively harmless.

  • If you feel your child is showing symptoms of raging rebellion, don’t despair. It’s never too late to reach out and offer your olive branch of love
  • Pay attention to his/her emotional needs. Always be in tune to what your child is feeling and thinking, more so than what s/he is actually saying. There could be a world of difference between the two
  • Establish trustful communication. There’s no point in sitting your child down for a heart-to-heart chat when you suspect that it will only end up in another argument. Your chats should deepen your understanding of one another and help you move forward.
  • Don’t be power hungry. Most parents run their offspring like a puppet on a string. Your desire to control your child’s every move can have very dangerous repercussions
  • Share your grief. If you’re ever in a situation in which your offspring shut you out while dealing with their own grief, anger or pain, then make them realise how much you love and miss them. Don’t hesitate to ask directly for help
  • Understand the difference between misbehaviour and outright rebellion. Says Dr Mithra: “Parents must understand the subtle difference between the two and tackle them in different ways. You can punish a child who misbehaves, but you will find that to do so for one who rebels would be useless and counter-productive. Instead, let your handling be firm, but tempered liberally with love.”
Kamala Thiagarajan
Kamala Thiagarajan is a Madurai-based journalist. Her writing interests encompass a host of genres including travel, health, entertainment and lifestyle. She is a full-time freelance journalist who works from her home in Madurai, South India. With 20 years of experience in journalism, she has over four hundred articles in print in leading magazines across the globe.


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