In contrast to demographics like religion or culture, age-based demographics don’t come with built-in morals. But this doesn't mean teenagers don't have specific moral conflicts. The main moral values of a teenager are closely tied with what a teen learns from his family and his social aspirations.
As you raise your teen, it is important to keep two things in mind. First, your teen’s brain is not fully developed; the frontal lobes -- the part of the brain that controls self-regulation and decision-making skills -- is the last part of the brain to develop. Second, parents still have a strong influence on their children, even into the teen years, though it might not seem that way. It is then up to the parents to instill their teens with moral values that can help them drive their behavior in an appropriate way. According to Dr. Jodi Dworkin, professor of family social science for the University of Minnesota Extension Service, the influence of parental value-teaching on helping teenagers avoid risky behaviors in favor of healthy decisions is crucial.
Conflicts of Goals
Being a good parent requires creativity. Intense conflicts between you and your teen can often only be resolved through creative compromises. You will often find your morals and your teen’s morals clash, often due to a differing focus on goals. Moms and dads tend to emphasize safety, academic success and personal growth; at the same time, teens tend to emphasize their reputation and social standing, often at the expense of their parents’ goals. In such situations, creative compromises are often the only way to solve moral dilemmas.
When your morals clash with those of your teen, your first action should be to open communication lines. Not only do you need to voice your concern for your teen’s decisions, but your teen also needs to express her reasons for acting in a certain manner. If you find your teen having engaged in vandalism, you probably will feel the natural urge to respond by punishing her. However, punishment can come later, after you understand your teen’s reason for vandalism and after you help her understand why such actions are inappropriate. In many cases, teens don’t immediately know why they act in certain ways. For the vandalism case, it is likely that your teen was acting due to peer pressure. By making the reason salient to your teen, you can open dialogue on the subject and explain why certain actions are morally wrong -- such as by explaining how respecting and valuing the property of others is important.
Finding a Compromise
A compromise doesn’t mean you allow your teen to act in morally wrong ways; it merely means that you establish a situation that allows both you and your teen to reach your respective goals. A teen who ends up vandalizing is likely looking for social approval. However, this social approval could come without illegal activities. Let your teen know that you respect her goal of being socially accepted, while at the same time explaining that social approval comes in many forms. In some situations, teens are simply hanging out with the wrong crowd. Parents have the advantage of setting restrictions on their teens’ social activities, and can shift their teens’ behavior by disallowing them to join risky social groups.
- Act for Youth: Adolescent Brain Development
- Raising an Emotionally Intelligent Child; John Gottman
- University of Minnesota Extension Service; Teen Decision Making about Risky Behaviors; Jodi Dworkin
- University of Wisconsin: Involving Your Teen in Decision-Making
- Uncommon Sense for Parents with Teenagers; Michael Riera
- Jupiterimages/Comstock/Getty Images