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29 July 2014
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You are here: BBC Science > Human Body & Mind > The Mind > Emotions and instincts

Teenage emotions: Teenage rebellion

There are very few perfectly behaved teenagers. Many of them take part in some kind of dangerous, unhealthy or anti-social pursuit.

Activities like drinking, smoking, watching adult videos or having under-age sex are common in teenagers. Some even get up to more serious things like stealing or taking drugs.

Two teenagers

It's alarming for parents, but the good news is - it doesn't last.

Statistics for boys show that teenage criminal behaviour tends to begin around the age of 13, peak at 17 and then disappear almost completely in early adulthood.


Independent minds

Rebelling in teenagers is often symbolic. They want to look grown up and impress their friends. If parents disapprove, it often makes teenage behaviour worse and arguments are common. They defy adult restrictions deliberately as a way of asserting their independence.

Teenagers have reason to be confused because they are part of the adult world in a biological sense, but are still not permitted to do many of the things that adults can.

Taking risks

Experimentation is a way for teenagers to learn to take responsibility for their own actions. It is a step towards becoming more mature and adult-like and in learning to make choices and decisions.

A bandage saying 'obey'

Risky behaviour is seen by adults as being a 'bad' thing, but for the teenagers there are many rewards. By pushing boundaries they are developing their identity as well as showing off in front of friends. There are suggestions from recent research that some bad teenage behaviour could be a sign of a healthy personality.

Growing brains

There is one other reason why teenagers might rebel. Scientists have used advanced scanning methods to study the changes that occur in the adolescent brain. Much to their surprise, they have discovered that the brain continues to develop and grow well into the teenage years.

This might explain a teenager's risk-taking behaviour. It has emerged that the emotional region of the brain develops to maturity ahead of the part of the brain that controls rational thought. In other words, teenagers have well-developed emotions and feelings but have still not acquired the ability to think things through. When they act impulsively, and do the kind of dangerous things an adult would avoid, their brain's late development might be to blame.

Teenagers' well developed emotions could also be the cause of another characteristic they are often accused of - moodiness.


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