Why Parents Need to Help Teens Develop a Moral Compass

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Parents often tell teens, “Don’t drink,” or “It’s bad to cheat on a test,” but the conversations about values often don’t go much further than that. Most parents have never really stopped to think about what types of values they want to instill in their teen, let alone how to instill those values.

How Teens Learn Values and Morality

The adolescent years are an especially formative time in terms of establishing values.

Teens are beginning to cement their own value systems, and sometimes these values are different from those of their parents.

Throughout their childhood, teens have learned a lot about what their parents’ value by observing them. They see their parents navigate the world, interact with other people and make important decisions every day. Although many parents may talk about what they value, teens learn much more about their parents’ value systems based on the behavior they observe, rather than the words they hear.

Of course, most parents want their children to have strong ethics and morals, but often, instilling the qualities they want their child to have can take a backseat to life’s other issues. However, it’s essential to take time to examine what values you really want your child to learn.

Why It’s Important for Teens to Understand Their Values

Teens are at a critical point in their lives.

Many of the decisions made during adolescence impact them for the rest of their lives. It’s essential for teens to understand which values they want to guide their choices. Here are some examples of how values influence the decisions teens make:

  • Career Path – Choosing a career path often involves tough decisions. Your teen may need to decide whether to pursue a career that offers more money or a career that helps people.
  • College Choice –Your teen may need to choose between a prestigious college and a school that is close to home. Or, he may have to decide between a college that costs a lot of money and a less expensive community school. Your teen’s values about money, family and achievement can influence this decision.
  • Friendships – Who your teen chooses to become friends with is often based on finding people with similar values. A teen who lacks clear values may be easily influenced by the wrong crowd. Your teen will need to decide where friends fall on the priority list in life.
  • Work Ethic – A teen who greatly values hard work may spend weekends and vacations studying or working at a part-time job. A teen who doesn’t value work as much, may spend time with friends or family. It’s important for teens to have a clear sense of how much they value work in their lives.
  • Free Time – Your teen’s choices about how to spend his free time will largely be based on his values. If he values friends, he may choose to spend that time with his buddies. If he values work, he may choose to get a part-time job.
  • Romantic Relationships – The decisions teens make in their romantic relationships are largely based on their values. Your teen’s values will play a large role in how much time he spends with a romantic interest and whether to engage in sexual activity, for example.

Recognize Autonomy

Teaching your teen the underlying reasons for your rules is one of the best ways to ensure that he makes good choices when you’re not around. For example, avoid saying, “Don’t do that because I said so.” Otherwise, when you’re not there he may choose to do those things. Instead, warn him about the potential consequences of his behavior. If he has a good understanding of why he shouldn’t do certain things, he’s less likely to become reckless as he gains more freedom.

Your teen doesn’t necessarily have to adopt the exact same values as you. In fact, part of growing up often includes rejecting certain values. But if you’ve instilled a strong ethical character in your teen, his moral compass may only differ slightly from your value system. Keep in mind that as he continues to grow and change, his values will continue to develop as well.

Read More: 10 Ways to Teach Teens Healthy Values

6 Strategies for Raising a Caring and Kind Teen

Are You Really Parenting According to Your Personal Values?

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