We found five often-overlooked truths about this freedom-seeking aspect of a child's inner life.

Fact #1:  Freedom wields a greater influence than parents or peers. 
Over the years, many studies (and parents!) have asked whether parents or peers exert a bigger influence on kids' behavior.  Our research convinced us that this question misses the main point.  When freedom is added to the mix, it seems to far outstrip the influence of any person.  Look at the astounding survey results.

When you do something that your parents would disapprove of, what is the best description for the reason that you do it?  Choose one answer.

6%      I'm just doing what my friends want me to do.
89%   I'm just pursuing my freedom and my ability to do what I want to do.
4%    I'm just being rebellious against my parents.

*Note:  Because of rounding, numbers don't quite total 100%.

Nine out of ten kids said that when they do something questionable, it's not primarily because of peer pressure or because they are rebelling against parents; it's because they are pursuing their freedom and their ability to do what they want to do.  And although parents with strong faith beliefs might wish otherwise, this dynamic wasn't markedly different among kids who described themselves as Christians attending church every week.

It's all about doing what they want.
We heard from the kids that although both peer pressure and parental expectation have influence, neither is usually the motivator that freedom is.  Peer or parental pressure is imposed from the outside, while the desire for freedom comes from the inside.  When the two are in conflict, the internal "want" often wins. 

For example, on girl described a typical peer-pressure situation:  a school dance, where she didn't want to "dirty dance" with a guy, but her close friend did.  The first girl repeatedly told her friend it wasn't cool and asked her not to dance that way—but it didn't matter.  The friend did as she wanted—and accepted that the first girl would be upset with her for a while.  At that moment, the opinion of her peer was a lesser factor than doing what she wanted to do; in other words, a lesser factor than freedom.

They also realize they can.
Allied to the powerful pressure of wanting to do something is the potent realization that they can.  We talked to do many "good" kids who confessed to doing at least some things that their parents wouldn't approve of.  They described the intoxicating realization that, physically, they could do what they want to do—because no one could really stop them.

On our survey, nearly seven out of ten kids admitted they would find a way to do something they wanted to do, even if their parents might disapprove.

Think of something that you really want to do that your parents might disapprove of.  Which statement most closely describes you?  Choose one answer. 

22%   If I want to do something, I will usually find a way to do it, no matter what my parents think or say.

47%   If I want to do something, I will usually find a way to do it … although I'd hope my parents wouldn't think I was being too bad.

31%   Even if I really want to do something and even if my parents would never know, I generally don't do it if they would disapprove.

Here's what one representative teenage guy told us:  "I'll stop at nothing to get my way.  I might make a slight modification based on my parents' wishes, but yeah, I'll do what I want."

This is the stark truth:  Short of locking our teenagers in their rooms day and night, there is almost no way to physically prevent them from doing what they want to do.  And they know it.