Teenage rebellion is a pop psychology psychobabble term coined in the mid 1950s, but was rarely used until 1960, and not until later by mainstream media (WP) and culture.[1] In the early days, it was more likely to be termed "adolescent rebellion". It is an ad hominem (WP) propaganda term, used to belittle the point of view of youth, with the effect, if not end, of bolstering coercion of them and regulating their behaviour. To illustrate the point, consider a comparison with the ridicule of menstruating women, where their points cannot be valid because their emotions are affected. In logic this is is ad hominem, attacking a speech not based on its merits but based on a quality of the speaker.

In the same way, Winston Churchill imperiously dismissed revolutionary ideals as a burst of hormones that passes away with maturity:

"Any man who is under 30, and is not a liberal, has not heart; and any man who is over 30, and is not a conservative, has no brains."

Or maybe, anyone who is over 30 and not still a liberal has no stomach for enduring puerile insults impersonating reason.

Is there such a thing as teen rebellion? Is the teen always wrong? Why, then, assume that disagreeing with their elders must be a medical condition?

Even those that accept that such a thing exists, among supporters of the youth rights movement (WP) often suggest that teen rebellion is a uniquely Western phenomenon that results from a society which views teenagers as less than adult and thus unjustly restricts their freedom in the name of their own good, causing them to rebel as a way to break free of these restrictions. This is in contrast to societies where teenagers are often viewed as adults. Indeed, in the Western world the age at which one is considered an adult (in both the cultural and legal sense) has advanced from the early teens in earlier centuries to the late teens and even early twenties in today's society. On the other hand, in earlier societies, lifespan was shorter, and youth freedom as a whole was severely curtailed by child labour. Perhaps people were considered adults earlier out of expedience rather than out of respect. And perhaps it would be more correct to say, the CONCEPT of teen rebellion is a uniquely Western phenomenon.

There is of course, the old saws about the bemoaning of Greek Youth's excesses by an ancient philosopher; this is used by the left and the right. In the face of this "proof" that the youth have always rebelled, the left would have it that discord from young people is nothing to be afraid of. The right fall somewhere between believing nothing they have to say is worth consideration, and, everything they do is a threat to the fabric of society. This of course means that both accept that since reasoning of value cannot possibly emanate here, it can only be ranting. The only difference is how harmless they think the ranting is.

However, the clash of youth and adult cultures in Ancient Greece is nothing at all like that which took place in the late 20th C. For one thing, the latter was unprecedented in its scope, and was preceded and informed by Wikipedia:labor movements, the struggle for women's suffrage (WP), anti-imperialism (WP) and anti-monopoly and a host of other good ideas that gained acceptance or should have. Additionally, consider the excesses that Plato and Aristotle, Xenophese, Aristotle and Sophocles were speaking against, and it puts this comparison in a considerably different light. Only one of them actually mentioned the youth, but all spoke out against the Sophistss that the youth followed. Where beats and hippies spoke out against war and racism, the Greek youth were in danger of losing the soul of society to greedy instructors who used rhetorical sleight-of-hand and ambiguities of language in order to deceive, or to support fallacious reasoning, and taught these winning strategies to their pupils. If the five philosophers are to be believed, the sophists were not concerned with truth and justice, but instead sought power and as much injustice as necessary to get it. So in this case, perhaps the adults were right. The philosopher's youth were the elite of arguably the society with the the most advanced intellect in history, and not only very well read and well spoken, but in many senses wiser than those of the modern age. But even the philosophers themselves were beholden to their masters, and so they did not speak out against war or slavery, and racism was an unknown concept to them.

It is also important to consider the more obviously wrong uses of the phrase as well. There is always a portion of the society at large, that more than blames teens for their beliefs. Almost unfailingly, propaganda from the right of the political spectrum has moved past this. They not only assume that the ills of society stem from beliefs of the youth of every decade, but will out of ignorance or deceit, shift the blame. They blame teenage rebellion on poor parenting or blame another institution or group, such as the media in allowing contradictory guidance (by which they mean, allowing the guidance of the left instead of just the right, rock music as well as the Church) or otherwise poor "guidance" or social guidance. This demonizing of innovation and social change really is a time-honored tradition. In the Middle Ages, parents forbade their daughters to act on stage; great writers were disdained in the early 20th Century for writing for movies as screenwriters later who wrote for television. In the 21st, it is still, if less so, those who write or read comics, and a blindness to the potential, at least, of videogames.

Teen psychology Edit

Scientists are about as evenhanded a group as one can expect on this subject...for adults. So it is revealing that the term has never been a part of any proven psychological theory, although it is the spicy sauce of many a hypothesis.

Indeed, it is Wikipedia:Temple University psychologist (WP) Laurence Steinberg suggests that "stopping systems within the brain make adolescents more susceptible to engaging in risky or dangerous behavior."[2] He argues that social programs and measures discouraging youth from taking part in risky behavior (such as drug and alcohol abuse, reckless driving, and unsafe sex) have been largely ineffective.

Steinberg also posits that this is because teenage risk-taking is generated by competition between the socioemotional and cognitive-control networks. Both go through maturation processes during adolescence, but do so at different rates. Specifically, the socioemotional network, which dictates responses to social and emotional stimulation, develops more rapidly and earlier during puberty. The cognitive-control network, which imposes regulatory control over dangerous decision making, develops over a longer period of time, across the whole of adolescence.

Steinberg states in his article "Risk Taking in Adolescence: New Perspectives from Brain and Behavioral Science" that "systematic research does not support the stereotype of adolescents as irrational individuals who believe they are invulnerable and who are unaware, inattentive to, or unconcerned about the potential harms of risky behavior."[3]

Teenagers have the same ability as adults to evaluate risks and their own vulnerability to the risks. Increased availability of information and education regarding the consequences of risky behavior have improved adolescents' understanding of the risks. It has done little, however, to change the actual behavior.

This is because the rules that teenagers break when they rebel are based upon the logical system supported by the cognitive-control network. This network is utilized by the adult authority, but is overthrown in adolescents by the stronger socioemotional network. From the point of view of a cognitive psychologist, a large factor in teenage rebellion is the natural early development of the socioemotional network.

In fact, a Cornell study from 2006 determined that teens are more likely to consider risk while making a decision, and for a longer period of time, than adults. They are more likely to overestimate the risks, in fact. Teens also, however, will take risks because they find the reward (such as instant gratification or peer acceptance) more valuable.[4]

Again, the worst excesses reveal this would-be developmental psychology theory the most.

This author, writing in 1960, reveals how times have changed for the better, and how she, as a product of her times, was a thinker of a worse sort. Ironically, the setting of the stage on which she will perform her morality play is idyllic:
"In this connection, I am reminded of the girl about whom I have previously written. She recovered from a catatonic disturbance of eight years' duration, which time she had to spend in mental hospitals. For many years now, this girl has been living in her own country home, stable, independent,and enjoying her household duties, her artistic accomplishments, and her friendly, casual, personal relationships and social activities."
"However, she did not fulfil the conventional criterion of a healthy adjustment for which this culture asks, namely, marriage. In spite of this, the therapist considered the goal of treatment reached."
"On the other hand, there are, of course, many other types of patients, neurotics, for example, whose personalities are potentially in accord with the requirements and values of this culture. Their lack of adjustment is part of their symptomatology and should be subject to change through treatment. Many of them are eternal adolescents who refuse to growup and who therefore try to maintain the defiant attitude of teen-agers toward that which represent to them the demands of the adults, against whom they rebel."

Before and after this rolling over the bright and many-colored tapestry of social change with a thick coat of nice clean whitewash, the author earnestly cautions as the nude Emperor's advisors did, that any who thought he had no clothes were, in this case, weak and spineless and apt to be steamrolled by the obviously pathological nature of their patients' bohemian habits. Don't listen to them, she warns, listen to me instead, and then you will be free to stand up for your own beliefs.

Rebellion against peer normsEdit

It is also revealing that not all teenage rebellion takes the form of violation of rules (i.e. illegal activity such as drug and alcohol abuse, vandalism, theft and other delinquency). It is an even spread across all behaviour. Often teenage rebellion takes form in the violation of societal norms. The less onerous the burden on society of so-called teen rebellion is, the more obvious that it at least CAN be used as a means of coercion and control (much like psychology and psychotherapy itself).

Societal norms being set in place as much by teens themselves as by their adult caretakers, the ratio of conformity to peer pressure and rebellion against adults is of interest, as is their relative degree and depth. As it happens teens differ enough from their peers to be considered separate cultures by sociologists. Rebecca Schraffenberger comments in her article "This Modern Goth (Explains Herself)" that her peers saw her bookishness shyness "as vulnerability and... made a game of preying upon it. I wasted a couple of years trying to conform and fit in, to wear the clothes from Benetton and buy the ultra-trendy Guess jeans. By the time I was fifteen, I gave up."[5]

In this case Schraffenberger abandoned the societal norms of Guess jeans for an alternative minority Goth (WP) culture. The societal norm is that optimism, internalizing emotion (keeping a stiff upper lip), playing well with others, politeness (and in some countries and circles, religion) are unchallengeable virtues, and that their opposites are vices. Much of goth culture defies majority norms within the teen community; specifically it values fascination with subjects such as death, dark music, aggression, depression and other emotional demonstrations.

Popular cultureEdit

The phenomenon has been categorized by mainstream media (WP) and popular culture (WP),[6] and is a very common subject in music and film. Some examples of films on the subject are The Wild One (WP) (1953), Rebel Without a Cause (WP) (1955), and Wikipedia:The Breakfast Club (1985). The classic novel The Catcher in the Rye (WP) by Wikipedia:J.D. Salinger has gained a reputation as the quintessential book on teenage rebellion.

Citations Edit

  1. Harris, D. (1998) "The Logic of Black Urban Rebellions," Journal of Black Studies. 28(3), pp. 368-385.
  2. Temple University (2007, April 12). Teenage Risk-taking: Biological And Inevitable?. ScienceDaily. Retrieved July 21, 2009, from
  3. Temple University (2007). Risk Taking in Adolescence: New Perspectives From Brain and Behavioral Science. Current Directions in Psychological Science pg. 55-59
  4. Cornell University (2006, December 12). Why Teens Do Stupid Things. ScienceDaily. Retrieved July 21, 2009, from
  5. Schraffenberger, Rebecca. (2007) "This Modern Goth (Explains Herself)", Goth Undead Subculture. New York: Duke UP, 2007.
  6. Harris, Darryl. B. (1998) "The Logic of Black Urban Rebellions," Journal of Black Studies. 28(3), pp. 368-385.

Wikipedia:Category:Adolescence Wikipedia:Category:Interpersonal conflictWikipedia:Category:ParentingWikipedia:Category:Youth Wikipedia:Category:Youth culture

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