Falling Outside the Jurisdiction of Teenage Rebellion

Arianne Zajac



Rebellion can be considered the process of resisting authority. An opportunity to go against the rules, or against normal and accepted ways of behaving; to defy convention. Rebellion is something we all experience in our lives, varying from the mundane and trivial to the fundamentally life changing, be it the way we dress, how we do our work, or the morals and values we hold ourselves to.

Rebellion is an essential part of human existence. As we go through adolescence, we seek to defy the adults around as an opportunity to form our true selves. However, no two revolutions are the same.

Many factors contribute to what may be a rebellion. Ultimately, it hinges upon whether there is an authority to repress. How does this play out when a child finds itself surrounded by adults without the capability to discipline? Trying to navigate the perils of being a teenager without the guidance of an adult is tough. Parents caught up in their own difficulties become a ghostly presence, without any further information of their child’s life outside of institutional settings, they are unable to set boundaries or create a secure domain.

In this perspective possible identifiers of teenage rebellion take on new meanings. Harmful behaviours suddenly take on softer tones. Hanging out in the ‘wrong’ crowd is simply a search for stability, while the habit of disappearing on Saturday nights, with no clear time of return, provides routine. Knowing where one is and what one is doing, even if it’s at a party while intoxicated or inebriated, creates a new world of normality, in which the reassurance, that is not present in reality, can be found.

Furthermore, how can rebellion take hold when those involved are trying to uphold the status quo. The dominant narrative surrounding teenagers often involves good grades at school for a good future ahead. Children are told to strive for better lives than the parents, to go to university, to get a career, to not make the same mistakes as they once did. When this pressure is applied in every aspect of children’s lives, it can become a pressure cooker for rebellion – ‘to go off the walls.’ However, it can also become a bind, so that no matter what else happens, these goals will always be achieved. Does it matter if teenagers are lucidly under the influence in the evening, if they’re up the next day for school? They have ticked the one required box from emotionally absent parents, they have conformed to what is expected; in their eyes, they have not rebelled.

Situations like this do not breed positivity. They often result in feelings of despair, disquiet, and dislocation. To battle with these kinds of emotions everyday significantly distorts life. Every aspect of what could be called rebellion changes yet again. To always be in later than when is meant, is the physical side of the escapism that happens every night. The thrill of disobeying even more authoritative powers, pushing every encounter, to see how much can be stolen, how many laws can be broken, without being caught, isn’t simply a result of animosity, it is a way to try and illicit ‘normal’ brain functions, to feel as if one is more than just the environment around them.

Teenage rebellion is typically portrayed through drug-taking, school-absenteeism, and domestic disobedience. All of which are seen to be the behavioural responsibility of the child, who should be able to decide their own outcomes and choices in life. However, rebellion is a much more nuanced issue. It is an issue that has a deeply contextual background, which will affect how everyone involved sees their own action. Ultimately, while rebellion can be natural, or even encouraged, the ways in which it manifests should be carefully considered.


First published Online, March 2021. Volume 16, Issue 3. Image: Untitled (Skull), Jean-Michel Basquiat, 1981