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WikEd fancyquotes.pngQuotesBug-silk.pngHeadscratchersIcons-mini-icon extension.gifPlaying WithUseful NotesMagnifier.pngAnalysisPhoto link.pngImage LinksHaiku-wide-icon.pngHaikuLaconic

I really used to be a bad girl

I got gangbanged in the bathroom at my high school prom

Yes, I used to be a real wild child

But now I am a Volvo-driving soccer mom.
Everclear, "Volvo Driving Soccer Mom"

An older character, who is seen as stodgy, virtuous, or law-abiding. We eventually learn that, in their youth, they were rather less so.

When the older character is a mentor figure to the protagonist, The Reveal that they fit this trope can sometimes be part of the process of turning them into a Cool Old Guy. It's also related to Mysterious Past, though there doesn't have to be any mystery involved. Rule-Abiding Rebel or Bourgeois Bohemian can be the result if the character tries to have it both ways. This can lead to a case of Generation Xerox if the former rebel now has rebel kids of their own.

People who were rebellious in their youth — especially if their actions included a strong sexual element — are said to have been "sowing their wild oats." (This is also said in the present tense of older philanderers.) The etymology of the phrase is explained here. "Sowing one's wild oats" is often a great understatement of reality.

On a few rare occasions, a former teen rebel was actually a closet rebel who was Living a Double Life. An extreme example might be The Fundamentalist kid you knew in high school and/or college, the one who always complained about all the other believers who didn't live exactly by their strict interpretation of As the Good Book Says.... Then — sometimes decades later — the truth comes out. That obnoxious bible-thumper had actually gone through high school and/or college regularly cheating, lying, stealing and/or screwing Anything That Moves. Of course, such people don't exist in a vacuum. Somebody — a cohort or an adversary — knew the truth all along, but their warnings usually went unheaded. The Reveal allows this person to say "I Knew It!" or "I Warned You" to all the doubters.

Definitely Truth in Television. Contrast with Used to Be a Sweet Kid where a villainous or otherwise unpleasant character is shown to be much nicer and polite as a child. Compare Parental Hypocrisy.

Examples of Former Teen Rebel include:

Anime and Manga

Film — Animated

  • In The Little Mermaid, Ariel often went up to the ocean's surface, despite knowing full well that her father forbade it because she thought he was being unreasonable and overprotective. Come The Little Mermaid II, Ariel's own daughter Melody does the very same thing (going into the sea when she knows it's forbidden) and Ariel becomes angry and scolds her when Melody reveals she did so.
    • Although Triton did so because he was horribly racist towards humans. Ariel did it because there was a psychotic sea witch (Morgana, Ursula's sister) out there who has been after Melody ever since she was born.
      • Not so much racist as he couldn't move past the death of his beloved wife, as the The Little Mermaid III shows us. While his reason is more vague, he had good reason too.

Film — Live Action

  • In Back to The Future:
    • Marty's mother, Lorraine. We don't see much of her in the present, but when he goes back to the '50s Marty is definitely shocked to see her smoking and drinking. She also flirts with Marty and wants to park with him, despite her assertion thirty years later that girls shouldn't chase boys and her insistence that she never did that kind of thing with a boy. Since Lorraine is a bit of an alcoholic even now, this could be a subversion.
    • There's also Biff. Subverted at first with him being completely the same as an adult in the 80's as he was in the 50's as a teenager. However, after Marty changes the past, Biff plays this straight in the new timeline.
    • Additionally, an original draft for the second movie had George and Lorraine as members of the hippie counter culture of the 1960's.
  • The Beverly Hills Cop films. Protagonist, Axel Foley (Eddie Murphy)

 Axel: You know, I wasn't always a cop; I fractured an occasional law.

  • Bubble Boy The 2001 remake. The main character's mother was incredibly controlling, ignored all of her son's concerns in favor of her shockingly over-the-top Fundamentalist beliefs, and treats her son like an infant the entire way through the movie, even going so far as to lie about the actual state of her son's immune system; he NEVER needed the bubble after age 4. She's a bit of a Karma Houdini herself, really. And as it turns out in the end, she actually used to be "Wildfire", the former love interest of that motorcyclist tough guy that was one of the first people the bubble boy met on the road.
  • The Edukators kidnap a wealthy, middle-aged businessman who reveals that he and his wife used to be members of a socialist commune and got up to all sorts of shenanigans.

  "We were six. Rolf, Bernard, I, Lizzy, Gabi, my wife. First, Rolf and Gabi were together. Then, Bernd and Gabi, then Lizzy and me. Then Bernd and Lizzy, then Lizzy and my wife for a while..."

  • Renaissance Man a 1994 film in which Danny DeVito plays a laid off advertising executive who gets hired to work with a group of misfit army recruits. The first thing he has them do is write essays about why they joined the Army. Several of them reveal that they fit this trope and the reason they joined the Army was to get away from it.
  • Superbad Officers Slater and Michaels reveal to Fogle/McLovin that they were this. They knew his fake ID was fake all along but let him slide and did all their shenanighans with him because they saw their younger selves in him.
  • What To Do In Case Of Fire, a German film is about a group of now-successful ex-anarchists in Berlin, who band back together after a bomb they had made 15 years earlier and forgotten about blew up, and they have to get rid of any evidence linking it to them.
  • Much of the premise of The Banger Sisters.
  • In the comedy performance movie "Himself", Bill Cosby notes that one of the first things a parent says about their children entering adulthood is that they hope their child has children of their own, who will act just like they did as kids. Cosby says that is is a curse, and it works.


  • Agatha Christie's Hercule Poirot has alluded to the "fast living" of his youth, but details are few.
  • Miss Marple has also made a few allusions to when she was a girl and looking for a man that her parents would disapprove of.
  • The Chrestomanci series by Diana Wynne Jones. Christopher Chant definitely fits the bill. It's implied that Gabriel DeWitt, his predecessor, does as well, though we never learn enough of his backstory to be entirely certain.
  • Discworld In one of the novels, Vimes was shocked to find his butler Willikins (gained when he married Sybil) was once a rather vicious street thug.
  • The Dresden Files Charity Carpenter used to be quite the rebel, running away from home when her magic developed and getting involved with a number of bad crowds, ultimately joining a cult whose leader was sacrificing its members to a dragon. When Charity was saved from the dragon by Michael Carpenter, she settled down as a good Catholic and Housewife and gave up her magic. Some of the other skills she picked up during her rebellion (notably fighting, metalworking and vehicle repair) are still used to aid her husband and defend her family.
  • Harry Potter: The Marauders (save for Peter Pettigrew, who wasn't much of a rebel as he was a hanger-on). In their schooldays, they were some of Hogwarts' most notorious pranksters and illegally became underage Animagi to keep Lupin company during his werewolf transformations. James Potter settled down and got married, while Lupin became a teacher, albeit temporarily. And Sirius Black, despite his incarceration and Roaring Rampage of Revenge against Peter... well, two out of four ain't bad.
  • Still Life with Crows by Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child. Winifred Kraus.

Live Action TV

  • Babylon 5:
    • Colonel Lochley joined the military to clean herself up after she found her best friend Zoe dead from drug overdose.
    • Dr. Franklin is a minor example. He took up medicine partially to spite his soldier father.
  • Bones — Dr. Gordon Gordon-Wyatt used to be a glam rocker.
  • Buffy the Vampire Slayer — Giles is initially portrayed as the epitome of the stuffy Brit. In his college days, he spoke with a South London accent, was nicknamed Ripper, and joined a cult that summoned demons for fun.
  • Degrassi — Joey Jeremiah.
  • Firefly — We never really learn Shepherd Book's backstory, but what hints we get definitely suggest this trope. [1]
  • Juken Sentai Gekiranger has an example in team mentor Miki Misaki to the point that she is still remembered and feared by the current batch of teen rebels. She's also capable of kicking more ass now than she was back then thanks to studying Geki-Ju-Leopard-ken (Fierce Beast Leopard-Fist) in the intervening period.
  • Legends of Tomorrow — The legends travel back to when Martin was young, where the present-time very serious Dr. Martin Stein is revealed to have been a chill, weed-smoking student
  • Modern Family: Claire Dunphy.

  Claire: Your kids don’t need to know who you were before you had them. They need to know who you wish you were, and they need to try to live up to that person. They’re gonna fall short, but better they fall short of the fake you, than the real you.

  • Red Dwarf — The gang go back in time and see Lister at age 17 with his head-banging "sham glam" band. According to Lister, the crazy whacked-out hippie drummer became a police officer and a Freemason, and the "neo-Marxist nihilistic anarchist" bassist became an insurance executive with his own parking space.
  • RiverdaleStepford Mom Alice Cooper is revealed to have been not only a rebellious teen, but a gang member.
  • Rumpole of the Bailey:
    • Rumpole's stuffy boss, "Soapy" Sam Ballard, president of the Lawyers as Christians Society, nitpicker about missing nailbrushes and anti-smoking crusader once had long hair, called himself "Bonzo" and played lead guitar for an amateur rock group called the Pithead Stompers.
    • Rumpole himself is a subversion of this: he was probably quite the rebel in his youth...and he remained one for the rest of his life. Granted, it's a much more subdued sort of rebellion, but then his youth was during The Great Depression.
  • Star Trek
    • Captain Jean-luc Picard of Star Trek the Next Generation was a delinquent and skirt-chaser at the Academy, culminating in a bar fight with a group of Proud Warrior Race Guys in which he got stabbed in the heart. After that, he apparently became rather more focused.
    • Oddly inverted with Captain James Kirk from Star Trek the Original Series, who is...well, The Kirk in the present day but had a reputation for being a swot at the academy.
      • In the 2009 film, Kirk plays this straight.
    • Chakotay from Star Trek Voyager is shown in "Tattoo" as a petulant youth who rejects his father's attempts to instruct him in The Ways Of His People because he'd rather run off and join Starfleet. Likewise even staid Tuvok was shown to have rejected the Vulcan philosophy of logic when he fell in love with an alien girl as a youth.
      • The whole Vulcan race is like this to a greater degree than even humans as their cold logic is the result of decades of mental discipline used to master their powerfully emotional natures. And then Spock shows a streak of this in Star Trek 2009 when he gets to (politely) thumb his nose at the Vulcan Science Academy.
  • Welcome Back, Kotter — The protagonist was a delinquent in high school and now teaches a class of delinquents. He often butts heads with the principal, who taught Kotter back in his teenage punk days.


  • The song "Death or Glory" by the Clash, formerly in the page quote, is about the mellowing out with age. "Death or glory becomes just another story."
  • Everclear's "Volvo Driving Soccer Mom", as seen in the page quote, is entirely about this trope. Supposedly Art Alexakis wrote it after meeting a porn star who was a soccer mom.
  • "The Ascent of Stan," by Ben Folds.

  "And you wondered why your father was so you don't wonder any more."

  • Clay Walker's "Fore She Was Mama" is about a couple of kids who find a box of pictures in the back of a closet showing their mother when she was young, wearing skimpy clothes and hanging out with bikers.
  • Ace from The Who's Rock Opera Quadrophenia, as explained in the song "Bell Boy".
  • Alan Sherman's "The Rebel" ends when the Rebel decides to non-conform by going square. He marries his hippie girlfriend and moves out to the suburbs.

Newspaper Comics

  • Zits: A Sunday strip has Jeremy having a nightmare where this happens to him. He meets his future self and is dismayed to discover that he is not a rock god but is dressed in a business suit, balding with a comb over, and has a dental practice in the suburbs. The last panel has Hector asking him why he's dressed in a stereotypical thug outfit. Jeremy calls it "self defense against his future".

Tabletop Games

  • Inverted in Warhammer 40000. Young Inquisitors are freshly indoctrinated and therefore puritanically orthodox. Those who survive to old age tend to lose their naivety and innocence to the setting's Black and Gray Morality, making them more radical and rebellious, and frequently the target of the next generation of Inquisitors.

Video Games

  • Martin Septim, the Emperor's son from The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion is a priest but dabbled in Daedric magic (apparently until it resulted in the death of his friends).
  • Jolee Bindo from Knights of the Old Republic. And a Jedi one to boot!
  • Wynne in Dragon Age has got a milder variation, she tells stories of a time when she was significantly more hot-headed and rebellious than she is today.
    • The sequel has Sebastian, who drank and whored so much in his teen years that his family forced him into a monastery, where he got religion.
  • Metroid: Other M seems to show that Samus Aran might have been one of these. The Behind The Scenes trailer shows her former CO, Adam Malkovich, giving out orders, and while everyone else gives the thumbs up, she gives the thumbs down. Seen here at 07:56

Western Animation

  • Principal Skinner aka Armin Tamzarian, of The Simpsons, who actually assumed somebody else's identity as part of getting over his rebellion. Accidentally. He honestly intended to tell Mrs. Skinner that her real son was believed to be dead - but she thought he was her son when he showed up at her door, and he just didn't have the heart to tell her otherwise. Fans hated this episode due to how crazily most of the cast was out of character in order to make the plotline work, but interestingly, the writers never retconned it in response--Lisa actually uses the plot as a threat against him in an episode years later.
  • Ms. Finster from Recess, in the episode "Weekend at Muriel's".
  • Francine Smith (American Dad) was quite the party girl in college.
    • In S2 Ep10 "Bush Comes To Dinner" then-President George W. Bush brings this trope up to Stan after he angrily tells Hayley that she's a lost cause. Bush reveals that he was a very wild party boy when he was younger (which is Truth in Television) and that Hayley, due to her rebellious ways, is not a lost cause, but is on the track to becoming President of the United States.
  • Terry McGinnis from Batman Beyond. His reputation as such is a big reason as to why he puts on the suit, and often comes back to bite him on the ass. As a teen, he was caught breaking and entering as part of a gang initiation. The way he describes it, he followed his best friend into the building and directly into the cops' hands. He also got into a lot of fights, but said flat out that most of what he did before the arrest was penny-ante stuff.
  • Khan of King of the Hill, even looking like a 50's teen rebel, complete with pompadour, in the late 70's.
  • In South Park, Kyle's mom Sheila was once a wild Jersyite known as S-Woww Tittybang". Today, she's the chief of the Culture Police who starts wars over immorality (and in one memorable instance a literal war).

Web Comics

Real Life

  • Truth in Television: It's not uncommon for kids who were wild and rebellious to become strict parents after having children and fabricate how well behaved they were as kids. This is because no parent is going to brag about how wild and crazy they were if they're trying to instill discipline in their children. Alternatively, they will try and justify their behavior by differentiating it from their children's behavior with simple but flawed excuses like "It/That/This was different."
    • Or, they'll say, "I royally screwed up when I was your age. Don't do what I did."
    • Generally, when you get into high school, parents become more truthful of what they were like at the time.
  • A Real Life example is Johnny Depp, who was once a conceited, self-centered Jerkass young actor who openly dissed the Academy and Hollywood in general. After several arrests and the birth of his first child, Depp has "grown up" and become a serious and respected actor. The Academy doesn't seem willing to let him live it down, though.
  • Right-wing Republican author P.J. O'Rourke was an anarchist hippy. What changed? "I got my first paycheck".
    • A common story with many other hippies.
  • Johnny Cash embraced Christianity after he earned a reputation as an outlaw in his twenties and thirties. He wound up using his experiences to serve as a strong advocate for social justice and prison reform, but themes of guilt and repentance were fairly common in his lyrics all the same. (He originally attempted to break in as a gospel singer, as seen in The Movie. He left his original label because they wouldn't let him record gospel stuff.)
  • Stephen Fry. As a teenager he was expelled from school twice, was a serial thief, and served several months in prison; now he's well-known as "the politest man in England."
  • Alice Cooper, original shock rocker, has a Christian summer camp for troubled youth and owns a sports-themed BBQ joint. Cooper found Christianity in the mid-1970s during treatment for alcoholism.
  • Believe it or not, Ben Stein (of "Bueller....Bueller...." fame) wasn't quite so stuffy when he was in college 40 years ago and was protesting the Vietnam War. (Even more shockingly, his mother approved of it!)
  • And everyone's favorite sardonic moralist, Bill O Reilly, was - by his own admission - quite the womanizer back in The Seventies.
  • Myster writer Anne Perry, who was revealed to be murderer Juliet Hulme after the release of the movie Heavenly Creatures.
  1. He was actually an Operative. Unless he wasn't.