Striking a Safe Balance with Adolescents and Young Adult’s Rebellious Response to COVID

3 Triggers of Rebelliousness to Be Aware of and Monitor

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A certain level of rebelliousness is inherent in pre-adolescence through early adulthood. This is true when we’re not amid a pandemic, so it’s not shocking or surprising their natural inclination to break away and push boundaries to get a better sense of themselves is revealing itself in their rebellion against the recommended preventative safety measures like wearing masks, social distancing and avoiding large gatherings.

Temple University psychologist Laurence Steinberg suggests that “stopping systems within the brain make adolescents more susceptible to engaging in risky or dangerous behavior.” He also states teenage risk-taking is the product of an interaction between the socioemotional and cognitive control networks and adolescence is a period in which the former becomes more assertive at puberty while the latter gains strength over a longer time.

It’s unrealistic to think they would place civic and moral requests above their very real developmental needs toward burgeoning personal independence and autonomy, especially when there’s no end clearly in sight. Knowledge is useful, hiding from what their natural inclinations are, is not.

Here are three areas that are triggering rebellious behavior among many of my adolescent and young adult clients since the start of the pandemic. If you’re experiencing any of these behavioral patterns developing with a young adult in your life, hopefully understanding more about their psychological roots will help prompt constructive conversations.

  1. Resignation about COVID

There’s an increase in a feeling of resignation about contracting COVID, hence adolescents and young adults are putting themselves in riskier situations in which they are likely to get it. These situations are consistent with their needs for socialization.  They are desperately trying to keep these events secrets. They are conscious about the risks of seeing family members following these events. It’s not that family isn’t on their minds, it’s that social/relational behavior is trumping safety.

  • Uptick of Dating Apps for People with Positive Antibodies

I’ve seen an uptick and new trend on dating apps that are also consistent with the need for this age group to push social/relational boundaries. Recently, profiles have been changing to include a statement like “looking for people positive for antibodies” This is an attempt by adolescents and young adults to broaden their network to meet and interact with by using antibodies as the caveat to broker dates. Research has shown COVID antibodies to be a mercurial test of a person’s immunity to the disease, which can vary with differing levels of antibodies. Scientific data is in a constant state of flux. Yet young adults are filtering in the data they want to “hear” and filtering out what they don’t, to justify their rebellious behaviors.

  • Decline in Academic Performance

Student’s overall academic performance in school has been in consistent decline, especially in testing. They are not realizing how much time they’re spending searching online for answers and talking to their friends about the test while they’re taking it. Complete the test. There’s a rebellious nature to this behavior, which is reducing test preparedness, slowing test-taking, increasing cheating, and lowering test scores. They aim their behavior at the academic system, which they don’t realize is hurting, and not helping them.

It’s important to remember the rebellious behaviors I’ve identified are typical of this age group and a normal part of human identity development. Given the current climate, you will benefit from discussing how these behaviors are affecting the way adolescents and young adults are expressing their rebelliousness. Staying informed about behaviors they will engage in with or without parental permission is essential.

Working within these limitations to create the safest situation for us and them is the most desired outcome. Hiding from this reality or cracking the whip will not make the behaviors disappear. It may embolden them. Allowing them the opportunity to rebel while suggesting a safe approach is something you can accomplish together. Try to recall a time in your youth when you benefitted and learned from an experience you did not want to give up either.

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