Why does a teenager rebel?

SATURDAY, 3 JULY 2004

I reckon a teenager who is judged by conventional standards to be in a phase of rebellion is reacting against his own self, against the people he holds responsible for what he sees as his inadequate given self, and possibly even against the environment in which this given self was born and raised.

It may be attributed to the fact that I am more exposed to teenagers in a certain cross-section of society, but it does appear that the “rebellious teenager” is a more common sight in developed, industrialized countries, where fragmented communities share a single urban landscape, and rich and poor rub shoulders on a daily basis, compared to communities where a subsistence economy is the norm, with narrower, more traditional connections between individual members of the community, and a closer cultural and socio-economic relationship between different local communities.

One could postulate that teenagers in urban communities in industrialised countries have more reason to feel ill-equipped for the lives they want to live, or even for the lives that are expected of them. Young people in these areas are after all more aware of other individuals in the same community or in other communities – both locally or in other areas – who at least seem to be much better equipped than they are.

I also believe – although I can only risk a humble opinion on this – that the particular economic environment in which teenagers indirectly find themselves, or where they know they will find themselves as adults, are conducive to feelings of inadequacy. Socio-economic position – where the teenager finds himself vis-a-vis his parents’ economic activities, and where he believes he will likely end up as an adult, as well as competition with peers in terms of material possessions intensify internal conflict within the teen between his view of what he is at that moment, and what is presented to him as the ideal.

Finally, I believe that too many adults, or then in this case specifically the adults in developed countries who have to fulfill the role of parents of teenagers do not have the slightest understanding of the processes of identity formation, nor do they have any idea of the most elementary philosophical issues that teenagers are confronted with. This lack on the side of the parents contribute to the fact that teenagers try to formulate answers to the questions of WHO, WHAT and PLACE in their own ways, and sometimes in any way that is remotely satisfactory. Ignorance is once again the culprit. Enlightenment is once again salvation …

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