Science Daily has an article up about a recent paper now out in the March/April 2010 issue of Child Development. In the study the researchers investigated when, exactly, kids become rebellious. They discovered that 4-7 year old children make distinctions between the kinds of rules parents make. Some rules go to moral issues, while other infringe upon the freedom of the child (e.g., friend or clothing choice). In the study kids appeared to be more willing to go along with the former and more likely to disobey the latter. From Science Daily:
The researchers looked at the beliefs of 60 4- to 7-year-olds about how child characters in role-playing situations would act and feel when a parent forbids them from engaging in a desired activity. At times, the parent's rule intruded on the child's personal domain (as in, you shouldn't play with a particular friend, take part in a certain activity, or wear certain clothes), while in others, the parent's rule fell within the moral domain (as in, you shouldn't hit or steal).
From ages 4 to 7, children's predictions that the characters would comply with moral rules (such as prohibitions against stealing) and feel good about doing so rose significantly, suggesting that between these ages, children become increasingly aware of the limits to legitimate disobedience. In stark contrast, children of all ages predicted that the characters would frequently break parents' rules when those rules intruded on the personal domain and that this disobedience would feel good, particularly when the desired activities were described as essential to the character's sense of identity.