EDITOR'S NOTE:  This is a continuation of "Rebel with a Cause," chapter two from For Parents Only by Shaunti Feldhahn and Lisa A. Rice ...

Fact #3:  Kids deeply fear losing their freedom.

Once we understand just how much teenagers revel in their first tastes of real freedom, it shouldn't be surprising that, like other addicts, they're also dealing with deep fear that we will forever take that freedom away.  An enraged teenager's out-of-proportion response to your words or actions may be a sign that you've set off her ultra-sensitive "loss of freedom" radar.

So what pushes a kid's fear buttons?

  • The sense that freedom has been snatched arbitrarily.  Most kids said that they felt their freedom was often taken away for no good reason or with no consistent pattern, and they were thus overly sensitive to the mention of possible restrictions. 
  • Seeing their social life sabotaged.  Kids seem terrified that parental restrictions will make them outcasts—a fate worse than death for a fifteen-year-old.  One kid declared, "When they ground you for so long, it's social suicide, and of course you sneak out.  You've got to cover your rear and protect your life."
  • Not understanding the rules.  We'll cover this in a later chapter, but as Dr. Carbery notes, "When kids say, ‘That punishment was so unfair,' it actually means, ‘I wish I understood the reason for those rules.'  If they don't understand the reasons, what their highly emotional and irrational brains hear is, "I'm going to control you for no reason.'"

Fact #4:  Teens will do anything to get freedom and avoid losing it—including deceiving themselves and you.
Driven by the all-consuming quest for freedom and the intense fear that we'll revoke it, even teenagers who are generally good and trustworthy sometimes resort to bad behavior.  They may downplay problems, fool themselves into thinking that they weren't doing anything wrong, hide things, and even lie to us—all in an effort to secure and protect their independence.

"What's the big deal?"
First, like other addicts, our kids may try to delude themselves—and us—into believing they don't really have a problem.  For example, one afternoon, I (Lisa) got an uncharacteristic call from one of my daughters.  She said, "Mom, I'm still planning to spend the night at Jessica's, but just FYI, I had the teeniest little boo-boo where I backed into this lady's headlight.  I don't think it's a big deal, and you might not even need to come over here. …"

In her eagerness to gloss things over, my daughter neglected to mention that this teeny boo-boo happened while she was breaking our rule of not talking on her cell phone while driving.  She clearly wanted to assure me that this wasn't a big enough deal for me to bother with or—heaven forbid—impose penalties that would interfere with the planned sleepover!  (More on my response later.)

One clever cousin to downplaying is to create nice, logical-sounding rationalizations.  One family we know has a strict rule that the kids keep Mom and Dad informed about the "five Ws" of their plans:  who, what, when, where, and why.  The dad was astonished to learn, therefore, that instead of being out at the approved movie the night before, his daughter had gone to a fairly wild party.  Not to worry, she had an explanation:  "The movie was sold out, so we went to Starbucks across the street.  Then these guys we knew came by—the guys you met and liked from the Academy, remember?—well, my cell phone was dead, and I figured you and Mom were asleep anyway.  And I knew you liked the guys. …"  This girl had fooled herself into thinking it was okay to break the family rules and rationalized her way into a potentially dangerous situation.