Ethical Dilemmas for Teenagers

Teens face ethical dilemmas at school and at home regularly 1. Sometimes they face situations that experienced adults find challenging. If you are working with a group of teens, you can help them with the dilemmas by discussing scenarios involving ethical decisions. Using open-ended questions helps teens come up with solutions on their own. These exercises help teens prepare for possible dilemmas they may face 1.


Teens often face ethical dilemmas when it comes to academic performance. Scholarships and college admissions often hinge on good grades. Some teens may reason that copying a term paper or peeking at another student’s test is justified if it gets them the grades they need. Some may rationalize cheating or plagiarism because they feel it will help them achieve loftier goals in the future. Some teens may even find an opportunity to get a needed answer on an unplanned exam. Teens must think of the repercussions for their actions. What if they get caught cheating 1? How would others look at them if they knew they cheated 1? What if they received a scholarship over another student who earned his grades without cheating? If they cannot do their own work now, how can they be expected to do so at the college level?

Drugs and Alcohol

Pressure to try drugs and alcohol is strong among teens. Many face temptation from peers and close friends, who tell them that drugs and drinking are fun and cool. Many feel they must engage in these activities in order to gain acceptance 1. Parents, teachers and school administrators work to discourage this behavior, warning of the dangers of addiction, overdose and driving while intoxicated. However, many teens do succumb to the temptation 1. This brings up other ethical issues such as what to do if you get drunk and do not have a ride home. Do you take a chance and drive drunk or ride with someone who is intoxicated 1? Do you call your parents to come get you? Doing the right thing is rarely easy, but teens need to understand the consequences of making the wrong choice.


Some ethical situations revolve around relationships between friends and family. A teen may have a friend that she suspects has an eating disorder or is being abused at home. Should she talk to a teacher or parent about it? Teens often face dilemmas in relationships with parents. Teens may feel that their parents do not understand their situations and place unfair restrictions on them. The temptation to lie to parents in order to do something they want to do is common among teens. Maybe there is a big party coming up that a teen wants to attend. He knows his parents will never let him go. Is it all right for him to lie and tell his parents he is going over to a friend’s house? What if his parents found out? Would they ever be able to trust him again? Teens need to be drawn into discussion on these ethical issues so that they can understand how their choices affect their future.

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