Ep 89: The Followers & the Rebels

Ep 89: The Followers & the Rebels

Update: 2020-06-07
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At times it may seem like all your teen wants to do is exactly whatever their friends are doing...even if that means jumping off a cliff, as the metaphor goes. Other times, our teens seem to be rejecting everything and anything, rebelling to the point of isolation. It’s difficult to know when your teen is going to follow the rules and when they’ll rebel. 

The big question tightrope teens are walking almost all have to do with identity. Parents might be familiar with teens being adamant that they have a certain brand of jeans one month only to discard or alter those same jeans the next month. Some teens call their parents at the first sight of alcohol at a party, and other teens gladly grab a drink--and sometimes what your teen chooses might depend on which party they’re attending. 

The answers to the question of how we might get our teens to think through their choices--following or rebelling--may actually lie in the world of behavioral economics. 

This week, Michelle Baddeley, author of Copycats and Contrarians: Why We Follow Others...and When We Don’t, and world-expert on behavioral economics, covers when and why people copy each other and when they rebel. Behavioral economics, as Michelle explains, posits that new behaviors are acquired through observation and imitation--basically we look at how other people behave and take our cues from there. Anyone thrown into a new situation is susceptible to relying too much on others to determine their future behavior. Among the most vulnerable group to this influence is first-year high school/university students. 

When I asked what wisdom Dr. Baddeley could offer parents who want to help their teens critically combat this influence, Dr. Baddeley focused on the importance of shared trust, communication, and research. By illuminating the consequences of rash decisions with real life examples, Dr. Baddely notes that parents can help their teens without coming across as controlling or out-of-touch. 

Another important topic we cover is perhaps counterintuitive to most people: rebels are important. Dissent is essential for politics, capitalism, education--even families! Often people rebelling have a reason, and discussing why your teen disagrees with a family policy can open up deeper conversations about values and worldviews.

This too is supported in her research. While contrarians may simply enjoy the risk of being different, they do push the copycats to reconsider their position. The same can be said about rebellious teens. Most of the time, they may be wrong. But sometimes, they’re right. Simply quashing rebellion without discussing it--particularly if it’s repeated disobedience of a specific rule or policy--might send the message to your teen to merely be more covert with their dissent. 

In addition to how behavioral economics informs communication with teens, Michelle and I cover:

  • Tattoos and how to get your teen to reconsider getting one!

  • If it’s possible to truly resist peer pressure

  • A trick to get anyone to reconsider their decision

  • How to reverse a social media copycat-bubble

  • The upside of rebels and mavericks


Michelle’s book is multidisciplinary in nature and that seemed to be just how our conversation went as well. Turns out, there’s a lot we can all learn about adult-teen communication from principles in behavioral economics. Excited to share this one with our listeners!
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Ep 89: The Followers & the Rebels

Ep 89: The Followers & the Rebels

talkingtoteens.com