I recently read “The Four Tendencies” by Gretchen Rubin (2017). She has a theory that we generally fit into one of four types based on how we respond to inner and outer expectations:

  1. Upholder: The rule follower. Has a strong internal drive and is the person who will make deadlines without anyone breathing down their neck. This is the person who can manage their time to write a book or invent something
  2. The Obliger: Does great responding to external expectations such as deadlines. They meet work demands and follow rules. They aren’t so great at working on internal expectations unless there is external accountability. (For instance, the person who is trying to establish an exercise routine may try to have a walking partner or use a personal trainer).
  3. The Questioner: Just as it implies, questions everything. Responds to external and internal expectations when they feel they make sense.
  4. The Rebel. Resistant to both internal and external expectations and are more likely to follow expectations when they feel a sense of freedom and choice. (The smoker who continues smoking despite a desire to quit just because they have pressure from family and don’t want to quit out of spite/another person’s pressure or idea.)

Not only did I find this interesting with regard to how I function and the those closest to me, I found this thought provoking when considering her advice for dealing with behaviors of the “rebel.” Basically, she suggests that when wanting something from a rebel you can try the technique below to get what you need. As someone who has a tendency that is the opposite of a rebel I can find it hard to understand adults who fit this tendency. Teenagers, however, often have a tendency to be rebellious (at least about some things) as they begin to define their identity and independence. So this post is geared toward parents of teenagers.

A Strategy For All Children

For younger and older children who tend to be defiant I’ve used “forced choices”—give them a sense of control by letting them choose between two limited choices. For instance, if they are resistant to eating vegetables: instead of letting them choose not to eat any you can ask if they want carrots or broccoli. There is no option for not having a vegetable. For many children and teenagers who need to feel a sense of control this technique can often be effective.

A Strategy for The Teenage “Rebel”

In The Four Tendencies, Gretchen suggests this method: Provide Information, then consequences, then choice.

Let me give you a couple of examples.

Situation: Teenager stays up too late playing video games or texting friends. You want them to get enough sleep, but all you get is an eye roll when you suggest going to bed by 9pm.

What you can try:

Information: It’s important not to stay up too late because…

Consequences: it will be hard to focus at school tomorrow so you will end up with more homework since it will be harder to get your regular work done at school. That will really limit the time you’ll have to play video games tomorrow when you’re less tired and can enjoy them more (or be successful with your mission/pass the level/get whatever reward the videogame gives you.)

Another possible consequence in this situation:  if you’re too tired I won’t feel comfortable with you driving the car to school, so you’ll have to take the bus or call a friend to take you to school.

Choice: It’s your choice, just keep that in mind and let me know if you need the car keys.

The trick is to present the consequences not as a punishment but as a natural consequence to not doing what is expected. Don’t push the point or get into a power struggle, just present the facts.

Situation: Teenager won’t clean her room so you end up washing all of the clothes when you do laundry since you don’t know what is clean and what is dirty.

What you can try:

Information: It’s important to clean your room

Consequences: When your clothes are spread all over the floor I don’t know what is clean and what isn’t when it’s time to do laundry. If you have clean and unclean clothes mixed together on your floor then the ones you haven’t worn may still smell and you may end up going to school stinking. I don’t want to have to wash your clean clothes twice, so it’s up to you to put your clean clothes away and your dirty ones in the hamper, otherwise you can start doing your own laundry. You may end up having to do laundry Saturday nights since I’m washing everyone else’s stuff during the day on the weekends.

For some rebel teens, it’s a matter of using the classic “reverse psychology” on them when you want something done. “It would be too hard for you to get to bed every night by 8:30. I don’t think you could do it if you tried.” The rebel may want to prove you wrong.

This can be the hard part: absolutely make sure you follow through with the consequences! Your teenager is old enough to do laundry or if in high school to figure out how to get to school from a friend who drives or by taking the bus.

A note about consequences: They have to matter to your child. In general, you have to consider a consequence that will inconvenience them or answer, “What’s in it for me [to do as you ask]?) For instance, they don’t want to get up early enough to ride the bus, they don’t want to spend Saturday nights doing laundry…typically the Rebel tendency works around having a sense of freedom and getting what they want. Sometimes they may do things out of love at your request, so for some rebel teenagers using this can be a helpful way to present some requests. Often for teenagers that consequence is something social–not spending time with friends or fear of not having social acceptance by peers.

If you have a younger child who tends to be defiant at everything (and may have an Oppositional Defiant Disorder diagnosis), keep in mind that it is typically related to anxiety. You especially need professional guidance to deal with the defiant behaviors of a younger child. The “rebel tendency” technique may not be good for a child or teen who is defiant because of ODD or anxiety.

Also keep in mind that your child or spouse may have a different tendency than you and this can affect how you parent. (Gretchen talks about parenting with each tendency so you can get more information from her book.). As an Upholder I often expect that everyone will follow expectations like I do, but there are some people who may need help setting up external accountability (Obliger) or won’t follow the rules just because they don’t make sense to them (Questioner). Once you understand this it helps you

This is just a framework, a theory, but if you would like some insight, check it out. You can also do the quiz on her website to figure out your own tendency. (I don’t get any royalties from sharing this, just like to share things that you may find helpful.)