Teenagers tend to have their own sets of goals, many of them differing from their parents'.

Ethical Dilemmas for Teenagers

by Damon Verial

Because of the subjectivity of ethics, teenagers must learn them. It would be nice if they came with built-in ethical decision-making programming, but they don't. Their learned ethics usually come from what their parents teach, and this teaching process does not stop when a kid becomes a teen. Parents have many ways of bridging ethical gaps.


Much like the teenage brain, the teenage social environment is unstable. Trends, peer pressure and “being in” can push a teen toward acting irresponsibly, inappropriately, and, at the worst of times, dangerously. Parents hope that their teen can summon up the morals and ethics of your family before engaging in a risky decision. And while she might, these social influences might override the household ethics. According to an article titled “Self-Control and the Developing Brain” on the Zero to Three website, the teenage brain is weak in self-control and decision-making, because it lacks a fully developed frontal lobe. Thus, parents need to hammer in the ethics whenever possible to help their teens value their importance. You can help your teen by engaging in role-playing and question-and-answer sessions about proper decision-making in difficult circumstances. Do so in a respectful manner; she’s no longer a child you can preach to.

Issues of Identity

The teenage years drive a child to separate himself from his parents, at least in personality. Parents might find that the new personality of the teen seems to clash with the morals of the household. Upon witnessing that, parents might freak out, thinking their teens have lost their selves. But the truth is they have not yet found their true selves, and are only starting on the journey of self-discovery. Teens in this phase will likely appear increasingly different to their parents, both in appearance and in character. What you should know is that the changes made during self-discovery and the ethics of the family are not mutually exclusive. Embrace your teen’s changes while continuing to emphasize the morals and ethics of the family. Your teen will respect you for understanding the new him, leading him to be more likely to open his ears to your moral advice.

Privacy as an Obstacle

If you raised your child in an open, warm household, you’ve already implicitly taught your child that she can approach you with problems. But teens are different from younger children in this area and are less willing to speak about their personal issues with their parents. Teens do want to share their lives and problems with their parents, but feel doing so would be a breach of autonomy and self-respect. These beliefs clash with their need to openly communicate with their parents. In the end, the need for privacy usually wins, and teens keep their mouths shut . A natural reaction for mom is to become the household private investigator, snooping through phone messages, Facebook pages and rooms. But this might push your teen away. What a parent can do, however, is let her teens know she’s approachable. Avoid asking prying questions such as, “Did someone laugh at your new outfit at school yesterday?” in favor of non-judgmental, open-ended, eliciting questions, such as, “Did anything happen in school yesterday?”


Usually, the goals of teens and those of their parents don't match. For the parent, the response to the question, “What do you plan to do next year?” can be as painful as a stab to the heart. Those years of slaving away working overtime to build your child’s college fund seem wasted when your teen tells you she wants to be an actress after graduating high school. For a teen, the drive to satisfy the parents is still there; it’s just countered by a drive to meet personal goals. Usually, what a mom and teen sees as being a huge divide between their goals is not so huge. Compromises can bridge large gaps, provided teens and parents engage in productive conversation. In many cases, both sets of goals can be satisfied. For example, a teen might insist that getting good grades makes him less popular at school. Clearly, this teen emphasizes popularity while most parents would emphasize academic performance. But through discussion, both sides can give way to find a solution in the middle. For example, the teen can spend more time studying and the parents will give him car privileges.


About the Author

Having obtained a Master of Science in psychology in East Asia, Damon Verial has been applying his knowledge to related topics since 2010. Having written professionally since 2001, he has been featured in financial publications such as SafeHaven and the McMillian Portfolio. He also runs a financial newsletter at Stock Barometer.

Photo Credits

  • David De Lossy/Photodisc/Getty Images