How Strict Parents Can Actually Make Their Teens More Rebellious

Overly strict parents can impact the honesty of their teens. In this Teen Talk, one teenager shows how excessive restrictions can be detrimental to a parent-teen relationship. An expert weighs in on what parents need to know.

How Strict Parents Can Actually Make Their Teens More Rebellious
Photo: Zoe Hansen

When I was in the seventh and eighth grade, I had a friend who had really strict parents. She was not allowed to have a phone, use social media, and rarely got permission to hang out with friends. Regardless of these strict rules, she did all the things her parents tried to restrict. She had a Snapchat, a boyfriend, and even would sneak out of her house at night. She would constantly share stories about how she would smoke and drink with her friends and all the times she had sent nude photos to boys online. Despite her parents placing a lot of restrictions on her, she found ways to surpass them. She secretly became their worst nightmare.

Being a teenager is difficult—we are figuring out our own identities independent of who our parents want us to be while navigating where we fit in our communities. Growing up without permission and guidance as we explore and learn makes the teen years even harder. Strict parents may feel like they are doing the right things to protect their children, but a lack of communication when setting hard rules can damage honesty in a parent-child relationship.

My friends' experience is not unusual. As a 17-year-old, I hear lots of stories about sneaking out, sneaking alcohol, and sneaking partners over. I know teens who will deliberately leave their phones home while they sneak off to other places in case the tracking app gives away their plan. Parents set these precautions and restrictions to keep kids safe, but without open communication, they set teens up to practice even riskier behaviors. When we leave our phones at home to avoid being tracked, we risk not being able to contact someone in an emergency. When we don't feel trusted, we are less likely to open up to our parents. When we feel judged and misunderstood, we don't ask for help that we desperately need.

Emily Edlynn, Ph.D., a clinical psychologist and mom of three, points to research for setting rules and boundaries for kids. "Research supports that parents who express openness to debate and negotiation rather than demanding obedience have psychologically healthier children," says Dr. Edlynn, who is the author of The Art and Science of Mom parenting blog, as well as the upcoming parenting book Parenting for Autonomy.

There's also the whole psychological reactance aspect—when someone is being told not to do something, it increases their desire to do it because they feel a threat to their behavioral freedom. "When parents maintain strict rules without accommodating a teenager's growing need for independence, these teens are more likely to struggle with mental health problems and risky behaviors like substance use," says Dr. Edlynn. "When a teenager feels like they cannot openly debate rules, they end up asserting their independence in these less healthy ways."

We Want To Be Trusted

It's completely natural for a teen to want to experience common things like parties and relationships and we should not be villainized for having this desire. When my parents give me freedom to have these experiences while maintaining a presence in my life to talk through the more complicated moments, I'm more comfortable opening up to them.

I do recognize that strict parenting comes from a place of love and worry. However, it is important to trust that your teen can make responsible decisions. It is also helpful for your teen to know that you are there to help them pick up the pieces if they do make a mistake. By building trust, you will find your teen will feel more comfortable being honest around you. It will also prepare them for adulthood. Practicing safe choices now can lead to safe choices later.

We Want a Healthy Amount of Restrictions

Even though it may seem like we are fighting for complete freedom right now, we actually do want some restrictions. They help us set boundaries with our friends and stay within our own comfort zones. The point is we don't want our parents to go overboard with rules. Involve us in setting the rules—we might actually agree to no phones before bed and our curfews. If we are still able to have room to make decisions for ourselves and experience normal teenage activities, limitations can work just fine.

We Want To Feel Understood

We are growing and need social interactions and experiences to thrive. Talk to us without judgment or anger when we approach you with our possible evening plans. If we are wearing an outfit you don't approve of, ask us what we like about it and we can find a compromise that feels comfortable for both of us. Combating these situations with negativity and enforcement can make us feel belittled. Sometimes all we want as teens is to feel like we are treated with respect.

An Expert Weighs In

"To support a teen's healthy development while maintaining healthy boundaries, ask open-ended questions to understand their perspective and collaborate with them on ways to modify household rules and expectations," says Dr. Edlynn. "This process encourages critical thinking and demonstrates that you value their opinion, even if a rule change ends up being a compromise."

Read more 'Teen Talk' columns here.

Was this page helpful?
Related Articles