Parenthood: Handling teenage rebellion

At 16, Chantal was no ‘ordinary’ teen. She dodged school and instead spent the entire day in local bars with a group of agemates. Using their lunch and break money, they drank cheap alcohol sold in sachets and smoked cigarettes. At the end of the day, she would stagger home.

Her mum would come home from work and find her asleep; however, she thought her daughter was merely tired from school.

After a concerned phone call from her daughter’s class teacher regarding absenteeism, her mother secretly followed her daughter one morning to find out where she went instead of school. The discovery that her teenage daughter was not only missing school but also drinking alcohol and smoking cigarettes was too much for her to bear.

In pure rebel fashion, Chantal was expelled from high school, leaving her mother desperate and determined to get her back on the right track.

The words “teenager” and “rebellion” often seem synonymous. But adolescence can be complicated— really complicated. The changes that occur confuse not only the adolescent’s environment, but also the adolescent. Empathy and patience are very useful tools for us to be better prepared to face problems in adolescence.

Adolescence is dreaded by most parents; for some, it is the stage where their once pamper-wearing babies turn into strangers. Whereas adolescence affects people differently, some youngsters go to the extreme — often engaging in self-destructive activities.

When Bosco Mutaganzwa’s son hit puberty, it wasn’t long before he turned into a complete stranger.  The once playful and obedient boy became very aggressive and independent, and cared less what his parents thought.

Mutangazwa says that though he knew his son would at some point go through this stage, experiencing it first-hand was tough.

“My son’s behaviour gradually changed and the more I tried to confront him, the more he went overboard. He joined a group and they would move around late at night, drinking alcohol and picking fights in bars,” he says.

Mutangazwa says he knew it was just a phase and that his son would outgrow it, but he wasn’t about to just sit and watch his son dig his own grave.

“I had to take serious measures, we counselled him as parents and also involved other elders in the family. This helped us a bit and we hope he continues to transform for the better.”

Mutaganzwa is one of the parents who grapple with holding onto their sanity when it comes to handling their adolescent children.

But how can parents prepare and learn to deal with teenage rebellion?  How does one know how much rebellion to allow? How do you confront the rebellion and still maintain the relationship? When do you let kids suffer the consequences of their actions, and when do you step in to stop them from getting hurt?

Pastor Hassan Kibirango, the head of teenage programmes at Christian Life Assembly, explains that parents need to understand that teenagers don’t just wake up and start defying. It is a gradual process that peaks during teenage years, he says.

“Parents need to understand that teenage years are transitionary and formative.

“Teens develop a new identity through new relationships. If a parent is not prepared to engage their child as a teenager, and resigns to treating them like a rebel, this pushes them further into rebellion,” he says.

Teenagers can make it through this phase healthily if their parents maintain a good relationship with them. It has been proven to work.

What parents need to do in order to combat their teenager’s rebellion is to understand their teenager and be aware of this phase of transition from childhood to adulthood, Kibirango advises.

“Parents need to improve their relationship at this point with their teenagers and quit treating them like the pre-teen they were a few years back. Allow them to have more of an opinion and never shut their ideas or opinions down. This is the phase where parents need to listen a great deal. Parents also need to be empathetic,” the pastor says.

Counsellor Joyce Kirabo explains that adolescence is a temporary stage, which is associated with a lot of defensiveness and that it is at this stage that children tend to believe that they have all the rights to do what they want, a stage where they feel they know it all and the last thing they want is guidance.

Often times when adolescents grow and meet full maturity, they get out of that stage and learn to be humble. Therefore, it is our responsibility as people who have undergone that stage and are very aware of the characteristics associated with it to help them move on from that stage successfully, Kirabo says.

She advises that even though at this stage, adolescents are not looking for anyone’s advice or intervention, parents or other  loved ones shouldn’t give up on them.

“It is our responsibility to get closer to them because we know at the end of the day when they get out of that stage and begin to realise they were wrong, they will be grateful for our advice,” Kirabo says.

The counsellor advises parents to always be patient with adolescents and understand that children react to adolescence differently; some do not change much, others do.

“Be patient with them, try as much as possible to provide parental guidance because if they are left alone during this time, they could ruin their future. Learn to be close to them such that when they are confused they can easily turn to you for guidance,” she adds.

Kirabo also says that when things get out of hand, seeking professional counselling is an option.

The influence of social media

In an article posted by Huffington Post titled ‘Teens Addicted to Social Media’, the writer, Judith Johnson, talks about a conversation she had with a 13-year-old girl who shared thoughts on how parents are out of touch when it comes to their concerns about the over-sexualisation of teens.

The young girl said she felt empowered to send nude pictures of herself on the Internet and that it was an expression of her support over her own body. She likened parents worrying about their kids’ ‘nude phase’ to parents “in the 80’s who were afraid of their kids listening to rock n roll”.

“As this young girl spoke with such certainty of her point of view, my heart hurt and I was saddened and scared for her and this generation. But, what I would really like to come of this is not to make each other wrong, but rather to find a way to truly hear each other’s concerns and evolve a cooperative response to this situation,” the Johnson wrote.

She went on to indicate that the vulnerability of teens is intensified by the fact that as they move through the rite of passage that is their teenage years, the approval of their friends is increasing and eclipsing the value to them of parental approval.

Kirabo comments on the aspect saying that social media has done a lot to misguide adolescents, pointing out that so many of these platforms have a lot of illicit material.

“Social media has had several effects on children, it consumes a lot of their time and they tend not to concentrate on their studies, or something productive. It also spoils them because at times they are exposed to content that is not appropriate for their age,” she notes.

The counsellor recommends that the Government should try to put in place some policies that regulate the use of social media regarding the age of the children.

“There has to be regulation which should be imposed right from schools so that even the education activists, teachers and administrators help in enforcing such policies,” Kirabo says.

What parents say

A father of two, Valens Mugabo, says the way a parent raises their child matters, though to a small extent because when it comes to this stage, it goes beyond this.

“At this age the child feels like they are grown up. Parents shouldn’t handle their children like they know nothing all the time, and it is important to make them your friend,” he says.

He advises parents to always show appreciation when a child does something good, and not just respond when they have done wrong.

“You can sometimes get advice from your teen, this will make them feel valuable and they will be open to you at all times,” Mugabo says.

Regarding social media, Mugabo urges parents to be very strict and not “allow room for error.”

“Since you cannot control what your child accesses on the Internet, I suggest you let them own electronic gadgets when they are old enough, let’s say above the age of 18,” he says.

For Margaret Kiiza, handling teens is one of the toughest times in parenting. She, however, says being prepared can be helpful.

Kiiza points out that at this stage, children are trying to find their identity and that they need guidance.

“At this age, even when rebellious, teens are young and lost and confused, hence, they need all the support they can get. Parents need to understand this,” Kiiza says.

Many adolescents today have problems and are getting into trouble. But even if a parent does all the right things it is no guarantee that a child won’t rebel.

YOUR VOICE : How best can parents deal with teenage rebellion?

Parents must learn when to discipline and when to talk to their children. This will help the child not see the parent as an enemy. They should also learn how to set boundaries as this will help kids know what is expected of them. 

Henry Malumba, Architect


I think most parents don’t understand the needs of teenagers. They should keep in mind that teenagers are going through a transition and so they should bear with them. A good approach would be to listen to them, understand them and their needs without judging them. Maybe then they will follow advice.

Gaudence Umurerwa


Parents should lead by example; the environment a child is exposed to can influence their behaviour. Make sure you provide a healthy environment, and, most importantly, a home free from violence.

Wilbur Bushara, Medic


I think parents have to understand children first; you might find that rebellious children have parents who are hard on them and don’t give them time to talk. Children might not tell you everything but if you have a good relationship with them, I think they could reach out.

Shadia Mfuranzima, Journalist


Have Your SayLeave a comment