Teenagers & Moral Standards

Your teen's brain is developing at a rapid rate. And while his brain is stuffed with facts, an ability to reason, consequences and social questions, it's also beginning to think more about morals and standards. Your teen's moral standards are based on a variety of outside influences and intrinsic motivation. While you might not be able to dictate your teen's standards, you can play a positive role in helping to shape her morals and standards.


When your teen was younger, his morals and standards mostly centered on the consequences of his actions; if he hit a friend, he got in trouble -- therefore, he stopped hitting. As your teen ages, his moral compass begins to point toward society's reaction to his actions, according to the moral development theory of U.S. psychologist Lawrence Kohlberg (1927-1987) 1. Instead of thinking of only himself, he begins to think of the greater good and the way his actions affect others. This indicates an increased degree of maturity and the fact that your teen's morals involve more than just himself.

Parental Influence

If you want to be an instrumental part of developing your teen's morals and standards, start early. By showing your teen what is important to your family -- religion, liberal beliefs, traditional values, family -- you set a clear precedent for your teen's moral development. Your teen is likely to try a variety of standards, but your influence should be seen in what you expect of your teen, suggests family psychologist Richard Weissbourd in an article for "Psychology Today." Expect more from your teen and you might receive a higher standard of morality than if you were to set expectations low.

Peer Influence

You're not the only one vying for precious real estate in your teen's moral life; peers also have influence when it comes to developing your teen's standards. Societal norms help shape your teen's ideas on what is and isn't right. If she spends time with a group of friends with low moral standards, there's a chance that a flippant regard for the greater good and a blurry line between right and wrong could cloud your teen's own morals. As a parent, it's important to know your teen's peers and understand how they affect her development.

Moral Conflict

No teen automatically makes the right choices all the time. While you can do your best as a parent to instill core values in your teen, he uses moral conflict as a way to test his morals and standards. If you sense that your teen is making choices that you don't agree with, remember that your teen is only just learning about different belief systems and testing his own standards against those he's been taught by his family and those learned from peers. Each moral conflict is an excellent opportunity to talk to your teen about what you expect from him to help shape his standards and further define his morals.