Ethical Dilemmas for Teenagers

Teenagers struggle with ethical dilemmas because they aren't always wise and experienced enough to make good choices. Most teens have a sense of right and wrong and have difficulty ignoring their conscience when it tells them they've done something unethical. Teenagers make tough decisions every day, and peer pressure often makes it more difficult to choose the right path.


Teenagers often struggle with cheating because of the importance placed on grades. A teen who needs a certain grade to stay on an athletic team might justify cheating because being kicked off the team penalizes him and his teammates. Teens on the other end of cheating also struggle with making the right choices. A teen might give a peer the answers to a test, knowing that the friend will appreciate and respect his sacrifice. Or, a teen might willingly help a peer cheat so he can fit in with a particular social clique to increase his popularity.


Teens often face the ethical dilemma of lying because they don't want to disappoint their friends or their parents. They also lie to cover their tracks, get out of doing chores, fit in with peers and protect other people, says parental support adviser Megan Divine at 2. A teen might lie about her whereabouts or her grades because she doesn't want her parents to worry or overreact. She might lie about a conversation with a peer because she doesn't want to hurt her friend's feelings. Some teens have trouble deciding whether to lie because they don't want to face the consequences of their actions. They might assume that what a peer or family member doesn't know can't hurt them.


Snitching and tattle-tailing are discouraged for most teenagers because they don't want to upset or betray their peers. However, sometimes teens must decide between disloyalty to their friends and their personal safety. Sometimes this ethical dilemma also involves the well-being of their friends. A teen might tell his parents about a friend's substance addiction because he is worried that his friend might self-destruct. Or, a teen might ignore a friend's problem with stealing because he doesn't want to betray his friend's trust. Teens often weigh the pros and cons of snitching before they choose which road to take.

Smoking and Drinking

Many teens face the ethical dilemma of choosing whether to smoke or drink. Some teens rationalize that it is OK as long as they don't drink and drive. Others choose to partake because they want to fit in with a certain crowd. Parents who don't preach to their teens about smoking and drinking or send hypocritical messages if they also struggle with smoking and drinking are most effective at relating to their teens, according to addiction researcher Dr. Adi Jaffe at 1. Honest communication is the key to helping teens work through difficult ethical dilemmas.

article divider