As part of their development into young adults, humans must develop an identity independent from their parents or family and a capacity for independent decision-making. They may experiment with different roles, behaviors, and ideologies as part of their process of developing an identity. Teenage rebellion has been recognized within psychology as a set of behavioral traits that supersede class, culture, or race.
Nature of teenage rebellion
There remains some debate as to whether the causes of teenage rebellion are completely natural or necessary. Some posit that an adolescent's failure to achieve a sense of identity can result in role confusion and an inability to choose a vocation, and these pressures may cause teenage rebellion. Others have faulted teenage rebellion as a product of a failure in parenting, or of contradictory social guidance in the media. Supporters of the youth rights movement often suggest that teen rebellion is a uniquely Western phenomenon that results from a society which views teenagers as less than adult and thus unjustly restricts their freedom in the name of their own good, causing them to rebel as a way to break free of these restrictions. This is in contrast to more developed societies, where teenagers are often viewed as adults. Indeed, in the Western world the age at which one is considered an adult (in both the cultural and legal sense) has advanced from the early teens in earlier centuries to the late teens and even early twenties in today's society.
Teenage rebellion and the socioemotional network
Temple University psychologist Laurence Steinberg suggests that "competing systems within the brain make adolescents more susceptible to engaging in risky or dangerous behavior." He argues that social programs and measures discouraging youth from taking part in risky behavior (such as drug and alcohol abuse, reckless driving, and unsafe sex) have been largely ineffective.
Steinberg also posits that this is because teenage risk-taking is generated by competition between the socioemotional and cognitive-control networks. Both go through maturation processes during adolescence, but do so at different rates. Specifically, the socioemotional network, which dictates responses to social and emotional stimulation, develops more rapidly and earlier during puberty. The cognitive-control network, which imposes regulatory control over dangerous decision-making, develops over a longer period of time, across the whole of adolescence.
Steinberg states in his article "Risk Taking in Adolescence: New Perspectives from Brain and Behavioral Science" that "systematic research does not support the stereotype of adolescents as irrational individuals who believe they are invulnerable and who are unaware, inattentive to, or unconcerned about the potential harms of risky behavior."
Teenagers have the same ability as adults to evaluate risks and their own vulnerability to the risks. Increased availability of information and education regarding the consequences of risky behavior has improved adolescents' understanding of the risks. It has done little, however, to change the actual behavior.
This is because the rules that teenagers break when they rebel are based upon the logical system supported by the cognitive-control network. This network is utilized by the adult authority, but is overthrown in adolescents by the stronger socioemotional network. From the point of view of a cognitive psychologist, a large factor in teenage rebellion is the natural early development of the socioemotional network.
In fact, a Cornell study from 2006 determined that teens are more likely to consider risk while making a decision, and for a longer period of time, than adults. They are more likely to over-estimate the risks, in fact. Teens also, however, will take risks because they find the reward (such as instant gratification or peer acceptance)...