8 Causes of Rebellion

Note: This post first appeared in 2017 but has been overhauled. 🙂

Rebellion in kids often takes parents by surprise, but the reality is that rebellion begins in the heart way before it’s expressed verbally or behaviourally.

There are always early telltale signs of rebellion long before it manifests itself.

Rebellion is not something any parent enjoys, but many tolerate it because they think it’s part of normal development.

But rebellion is not ok.  It is not “normal”.  In fact, the Bible reveals how serious a sin it is – Deuteronomy 21:18-21 tells how a parent should deal with a son who is rebellious.  The consequence of continued rebellion was death by stoning.

Now, I’m not saying anyone should stone their rebellious child, but the point here is that it is not something to be overlooked, hoping your child will outgrow it.

Why is rebellion serious?

Rebellion is serious because resistance to parental authority ultimately leads to rebellion toward God.  And rebellion has a way of spreading.

Related: How to deal with a rebellious teenager

(Note: teenage transition, questioning authority or rules, a strong personality, and making a mistake are not necessarily rebellion.)

What causes a child to be rebellious?

Sometimes rebellion rises without motivation – as in the case of Satan in heaven and Adam and Eve in the Garden – but most times rebellion in children can be traced back to some cause.

Apart from the sinful nature or traumatic experiences like divorce, remarriage, abuse, etc, here are 8 causes of rebellion:

1. Hypocrisy

One of the main reasons young people leave the religion of their parents is they see that it does not work for them (the parents).  Their religion doesn’t make them kind to each other. They still fight and argue. They do crooked business deals, and live out of harmony with what the Chrisitainity they profess.

Be what you want your children to be.  Practice what you preach. You must be right in theory and in practice.

Children see the contradiction between profession and practice. They are not fooled by pretense.

2. Beholding

Whatever you are feeding your children’s minds will impact their behaviour.

What books are your children reading? What are they watching on TV? What video games are they playing?  What music are they listening to?  Rock music, by nature, is rebellious and will cultivate the same in your child.

By beholding, your children will be changed. For good or bad.  To teach right principles for 15 minutes a day and then counteract that teaching with 2 hours of kids TV that encourages disrespect for authority, parents, and life itself, is not going to produce children with good character.

 A family member once told me that I should expose my children to both bad and good so that later in life they would be able to make an “educated” decision about what is right and wrong. But if you look at the laws of nature, that is a dangerous idea. If you leave a garden, do the vegetables grow by themselves with no weeds to hinder their progress? Absolutely not! The weeds will take over and strangle the vegetables.

If you expose your child to good and evil indiscriminately, hoping that at some future time the good will predominate and the evil lose its influence, you will be disappointed. The evil will increase faster than the good.

It is possible that after many years the evil they have learned may be eradicated, but that’s not a guarantee. It’s easier and much safer to pull the weeds and cultivate the good in your children than to remove bad habits later.

3. Association

The people your children spend the most time with will have the greatest impact on their characters. Any good teaching you do will be nullified by the habits of those they associate with if your children spend more time with them than with you.  That’s just the way it is.

  • Keep your children within earshot when they are with friends.
  • Have children over to your house so that you can stay in touch with their play and association.
  • Limit certain associations altogether if you see that it is bad for your child.

Young children, if left to themselves, learn the bad more readily than the good because bad habits agree with the natural heart.

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4. Bad management

This comes in two forms – neglect and leniency or too much management or being too strict. 

When you neglect to give consequences, never follow through on commands, fail to train your child in right habits, allow your child to have his own way, or give him whatever he cries for, you create a lack of respect for authority = rebellion.

 A lack of firmness and decision will lead children to have a constant hope that if they coax, cry, or pout long enough they will get what they want.  This keeps them in a constant state of desire, hope, and uncertainty, making them restless, irritable, and rebellious.

The flip side is over-managing your children – to constantly be correcting, dominating, giving harsh consequences for childish mistakes, being legalistic in your approach to home rules, denying reasonable privileges – this also creates rebellion.  I’ve seen it in the eyes of teenagers that come from these kind of homes.

Harsh words provoke resistance.  Continual censure bewilders but doesn’t reform.  If you show a rough, severe, masterly spirit, your children will become obstinate and stubborn.  Ordering in a scolding tone will make your children do what you ask, not from love, but because they dare not do otherwise, eventually leading to rebellion.

Find the balance between justice and mercy. Blend authority with affection.  Win the hearts of your children while maintaining your expectations.

Related: 3 Ways to get your kids to listen to you

5. Idleness

 You know the saying, “An idle mind is the Devil’s workshop.”  Well, it’s true.  Idleness creates rebellion because a child has time to listen to the suggestions of the devil. 

Keep your children occupied with useful things. You should allow some free time each day, but to have hours of unplanned free time is like leaving a garden unplanted – the weeds make their home there very quickly. Preoccupy your children’s hearts with good things so that there is no room for the bad.

Have your children do chores or schoolwork before giving them free time.  They will appreciate the free time way more this way. They will fight less and be less selfish in their play.

Innocent pleasure is always more satisfying when it follows useful activity.

Devise ways and means of keeping your children usefully busy. This is one of the surest safeguards for children.

6. Lack of joy in the home

If the emotional climate of your home is unhappy you are creating a breeding ground for rebellion.  If you are constantly criticizing your spouse or children, always complaining, finding fault with everything, you make your home an unpleasant place.  The home should be a place your children love to be, and parents create the atmosphere.

Start practicing joy and cheerfulness.  Choose to see the positive in your family members.  Commend your children for work well done or for effort put in.  Thank your spouse for what he/she does for you.  Make a list of things you are thankful for and review them daily.  Create new habits of positive thinking.  Smile.  Even if you don’t feel like it.

Take note of how you begin and end your days.  Do you say good morning to your children with a smile and a hug?  Or do you frown and grumble at them?  This sets the tone for the day.  Do you put them to bed with a song and a prayer, smiles and hugs?  The way they go to sleep will affect the way they wake up and you have the power to make that a positive experience.

Your home doesn’t have to be a breeding ground for rebellion.  There is a lot you can do to prevent it.

“The thing worse than rebellion is the thing that causes rebellion.” ~Frederick Douglass~

7. Not validating feelings

If a child’s feelings – whether good or bad – are not validated and understood, the child may begin to feel rebellious toward the parent and find someone else who will listen to them.

Children who feel free to share things they are angry or hurt about, don’t have to rebel to act it out.

8. Lack of unity in parents

When one parent is too strict and the other too lenient a child feels insecure and will often rebel against the inconsistency.

Don’t argue about discipline issues in front of your kids. Sort your disagreements out behind closed doors, and present a united front.

Related: How to see eye to eye as parents

Most of the time rebellion does not rise without a cause. There is much you can do to help your children submit to your authority.

Which of these needs work in your home?

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About The Author

Jennifer Lovemore

Jennifer has three grown kids and is married to her best friend, Richard. She started this website as a platform to help families, and specifically women, to take control of their lives and grow themselves spiritually, mentally & emotionally, and to discover their God-given purpose and live it out with confidence. She is a trained Life Coach and has diplomas in relationship counselling and CBT (Cognitive Behavioural Therapy). She is a certified SYMBIS (Save Your Marriage Before It Starts) facilitator. She lives in sunny South Africa.


  1. Sherri | 28th Sep 17

    Good thoughts, thanks Jenny.

  2. Johanna | 4th Oct 17

    Hulle moet hierdie verpligtend maak vir alle voornemende paartjies wat wil trou. Kan net goeie resultate tot gevolg hê.
    Baie dankie Jenny.

    • Jenny Lovemore | 5th Oct 17

      Ja, dit sou gehelp het as ek ‘n paar van die dinge geweet het voor die tyd!

  3. How to Spot Rebellion in Your Child - Love More to Live | 29th Mar 22

    […] Related: 6 Causes of Rebellion […]

  4. Carla | 25th Sep 23

    These are wonderful (albeit slightly convicting😉) suggestions. Thank you, Jenny!

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