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The ‘Cause’ in Teenage Angst

By Chris Wong, VI Form

“What’s your biggest fear about being a parent?” I naively asked, as my father and I were on our weekly father-son jog.  My dad stopped jogging, and sighed. He wiped his brow of sweat with his shirt, before putting a hand on my shoulder. I looked up into his eyes with naïveté.

“叛逆期,” (Pànnì qī) he responded simply in Chinese, before continuing on with the jog.

The English translation for this word is ‘rebellious period’, or, often in colloquial terms, ‘teenage angst.’ Ask any parent about it and you will always get the same disgruntled sigh and scrunched up faces of disgust. They have all experienced the period of time when their children have turned from little angels into rebellious monsters. As they go through their puberty transformations, teenagers get hit with a barrage of hormones, problems, and responsibilities unknown to them in the past, and as a result, they quite often take out their anger on their parents.

Anecdotally, I have gone through this period as well. All the father-son bonding activities that I used to do with my dad – bike riding, jogging, watching TV – began to fade away with time. The weekly activities turned into monthly, then to yearl,y before they stopped altogether. At the same time, friction began to develop between my parents and me. I objected to all my parents’ statements and did everything in my power to make sure I was going to bed at 10:30, not 10:00. Life felt like a trial as I became enveloped with the idea that my parents’ sole objective in life was to make mine worse, and thus I must do the same to them; it was only fair.

New experiences are tough. New experiences mixed in with a plethora of emotions and biological changes are even tougher. And yet, this period transcends the adolescent years. Throughout a person’s life, each person will go through his or her own tribulations, worries, and, perhaps because of these or in spite of these, their own rebellions. Whether it be in an office job or a job on a construction site, there exists numerous problems for people to face in any situation. An impossible deadline on a project by a demanding boss can leave people feeling stressed. We all go through periods in life when we develop a system to counteract these problems. These are our ‘little rebellions’.

Going through life, we use these rebellions as a coping mechanism in order to deal with these problems. These rebellions are usually against an established system or form of governance, but it doesn’t have to be. The types of rebellion are usually dictated by the problem a person is facing in the first place. The problems develop into our cause: the purpose of the rebellion. They are what fuel the rebellions to start with and are the motivators behind an action. In our own unique way, we are all ‘rebels with a cause.’

One of the most commonly debated ‘rebellions’ in today’s culture is underage drinking and use of drugs. Understandably, the dangers of binge drinking are undoubtedly deadly: it can lead to impaired body movement and judgment, and, in the worst-case scenario, death to self or others. The media incessantly broadcasts about teenagers who drank too much at a party and had to have their stomachs pumped, which fuels a pseudo-hysteria. However, a less commonly discussed topic is why teenagers drink illegally in the first place. If one wants to rebel against this cause, then the proper course of action is to think, brainstorm, collect data, gain followers, and then initiate respectful rebellious actions.

Many people choose to write rebels off in history as bringers of destruction and mayhem who enjoy causing chaos. However, we as a society too often forget the motivating factors of a rebel. Rebels are not defined by what they do, but by who they are. Freedom fighters like Che Guevara helped begin a revolution in Cuba because of what he believed was right. It wouldn’t be fair to Che if he was remembered for the battles and deaths he was involved with and not for his ideals and what he believed in.

To return back to the example about teenage rebellion: as parents, it can often be hard to understand a child’s rebellious phase. It’s important to always recognize the cause behind an action. It may be tough at times to understand why the kid is constantly slamming the door or swearing, but you mustn’t forget that he or she is usually a rebel with a cause—an important reason to the person for the rebellion. Probing the cause through discussion and support can often help assuage the angst.

Chris Wong is a VI Form boarding student from Hong Kong.  He lives in Coe House and enjoys tennis, writing, and a healthy and fit lifestyle.

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