Growing up as a teenager I was told by friends, teachers, my parents (among others) that my teenage years were the time for rebellion. It was assumed that a child between the ages of 14 and 18 would by definition lash out against adult figures, authority, the system in order to move through some innate urge triggered by hormones, peer pressure and social anxiety. Then, once we graduate from high school, turn 19 and go to college a magical transition happens and we are told the time for rebellion is over- the focus shifts to choosing a major, finding a career, getting married, etc.
To be honest, I did feel a need to rebel, yet I was and am still not convinced teenage rebellion is given a proper voice in our society. Perhaps the act of rebellion, rather than a phase that one must go through that represents hormonal shifts and labeled as “teenage angst”, is actually a cry for a shift in the way our culture deals with education (more like ‘instruction’), and the destruction of our true selves in order to fit into a societal mold.
Before going off the deep end into philosophical quagmire, let us imagine a world where teenagers are NOT rebelling against authority. Picture a classroom where every child 14-18 is obediently absorbing every thought, belief and byte handed to them. In this world, where is the innovation? Where is the challenge of the current paradigm in order to make way for the future? The teenage act of rebellion is not merely a hormonal shift (although one might say the hormones enable the rebellion to exist), but rather a precursor vision that something being taken for ‘normal’ and ‘necessary’ needs to change. Rebellion, when given proper context and a voice, helps the world shed its old skin and step into a new, necessary way of being.
And what happens when rebellion is not given a place, or is merely stereotyped, told to go in a corner, and count to 10? Google search ‘teenage violence’, ‘suicide rates’, ‘youth drug use’, ‘bullying’, ‘sexting’, ‘depression’, etc. etc. and you will have your answer. The world as we know it is screaming that there is something wrong with youth, yet rather than look at the distress signals as a sign to create a system that can listen to the message, we place a label on teenagers to isolate them and continue with business as usual.
My thoughts on rebellion, especially when looking at specific cases of youth who are ‘acting out’ is that teenagers are using rebellious behavior to tell us they are looking for more responsibility, more personal meaning in the world, and a place in which to share their feelings. All we need to do is open up the space to listen.