Don't forget to rebel: advice to teens

Teachers advised to aid adolescents in rejecting parental values to form their own belief system

Adi Bloom

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There are many things that teenagers need to be told to do: homework, taking it easy with the White Lightning, wearing a coat in sub-zero temperatures.

Rebelling against their parents, however, is not something most teenagers need to be prompted to do.

But a new book tells teachers that it is their duty to do just such prompting. Philosophy With Teenagers, by Patricia Hannam, a Cumbria RE teacher, and Mexican academic Eugenio Echeverria, suggests that teachers play a vital role in helping pupils to reject their parents' example.

"Children grow with the influence of the values that are shown to them at home," the researchers said.

"In most cases, they obey and believe to be true what their parents tell them about right or wrong . There is always a set of values that families believe important to pass on to their offspring."

In adolescence, however, teenagers begin to realise that their parents are not perfect, and to question what they have been taught by them. And it is here that teachers can help.

Family background can significantly affect how naturally pupils take to teenage rebellion. The researchers therefore suggest that teachers provide a "community of philosophical enquiry", encouraging adolescents in the development of their own ideas and identities.

Children from authoritarian families are dictated to by their parents: fixed rules stipulate where they can go, with whom and for how long. Such pupils become dogmatic in their views, holding opinions on almost everything. But they also struggle with criticism, either becoming aggressive or just running away.

The researchers therefore suggest that teachers encourage these pupils to compare their own parents with other people's. The community of enquiry allows teenagers to see that some of their classmates are given more freedom at home and allowed to manage their own decisions. "They might start questioning the rigidity of the rules at home," the academics said.

Other teenagers come from homes characterised by uncertainty. Sometimes they are given strict rules; at other times, they are given no rules at all. For example, one weekend they might be encouraged to stay out at a party, the next they will be punished for coming home too late.

Children growing up in such families have few clear ideas about right and wrong. When asked for opinions or decisions, they inevitably respond with "not really" or "I don't know".

For pupils of this type, teachers provide much-needed stability. Teenagers can compare the acceptance and respect they experience at school with the confusion of their home lives, allowing them perspective on their parents' failings.

Finally, some pupils come from families where they are encouraged to make their own decisions, and are taught to compare, contrast and weigh up alternatives.

Pupils from this type of home can act as role models within a school community of enquiry. Teachers can use their example to persuade other pupils of the need to rebel against their own home lives.

Teachers, therefore, play a vital role in ensuring that teenagers are able to explore the type of identities and beliefs they want to assume for themselves. When parents restrict their children's choices, teachers encourage the teenagers to rebel and find another model for their own lives.

"There is no guarantee that adolescents participating in a community of philosophical enquiry will make the right choices in their lives," the researchers said. "But they will certainly have better tools to confront the crucial decisions that face them."

Types of family.

  • Authoritarian - clear, fixed rules about what is and is not allowed.
  • Inconsistent - sometimes strict rules, at other times none.
  • Authoritative - constant dialogue, with children gradually given autonomy to make own decisions. Adolescent identities that result.
  • Foreclosed - strong convictions, but no reflection on why they hold them.
  • In moratorium - do not know what they want to do in life, but are eager to explore and to search for their own answers.
  • Achievement - after reflection and deliberation, adolescents make a commitment to certain beliefs.
  • Diffusion - not able or willing to confront developmental tasks at a particular stage in their lives.

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    Adi Bloom

    Adi Bloom is Tes comment editor

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