All About Moral and Values Development in Adolescence

Adolescence, the most fascinating aspect of growing up, cannot be without the development of values and morals during these teenage years. Picture this as a friendly and enlightening journey into understanding how adolescents, maybe like your old self or someone you know, start shaping their internal moral senses. Because such senses form the foundation for the kind of person they’ll become.

In this discussion, we’ll break down what moral and values development in adolescence really mean in a way that’s easy to grasp. We’ll also explore how these important principles start to evolve and take root during the teenage years, influenced by everything from family and friends to media and personal experiences. It’s like a backstage pass to the mind of a teenager, revealing how they figure out what matters to them and what they believe to be right or wrong.

Let’s dive in and make sense of this exciting, sometimes confusing, but always an indispensable part of growing up.

What is Moral Development in Adolescence?

Moral development in adolescence is how teens grow, understand what’s right and wrong, and apply these beliefs in their daily lives. During these years, their brains start to think in more advanced ways, which helps them understand the deeper aspects of life and morality.

Their minds in this stage are no longer just black or white; they start seeing the grey areas and realise that not every question has a straightforward answer. They begin to question rules and norms, not just to rebel, but to genuinely understand why things are the way they are. The questioning part is a healthy part of forming their own set of morals and ethics.

What is Moral Development in Adolescence?

At the heart of moral and values development in adolescence lies a few things: understanding oneself and others, managing one’s behaviour and emotions, developing a sense of identity, including a moral identity, and learning to care about others. It’s also about building social intelligence – understanding and identifying relationships.

Parents can shape their teens’ moral compass through clear guidelines, empowerment, unconditional love, and by being good role models themselves. By providing a nurturing environment and helping teens understand the consequences of their actions, parents guide them toward becoming responsible, ethical adults.

Factors that Affect Moral and Values Development in Adolescence

Various factors influence adolescents’ moral and values development, each forming their understanding of the outside world. These factors interplay to form a complex web that guides teens through their ethical and moral maturation.

  • Family Influence: The family environment sets children’s initial moral standards and values. The parenting style, the moral behaviour modelled by parents, and family discussions about ethical issues significantly impact adolescents’ moral development.
  • Peer Influence: As adolescents seek independence and identity, peers become increasingly influential. Peer groups can reinforce or challenge family-taught values, and the desire for acceptance and belonging can sometimes lead to ethical dilemmas.
  • Cultural and Societal Norms: Cultural norms, societal expectations, and prevailing ethical standards in a community influence an adolescent’s moral perspective.
  • Educational Environment: The values promoted in educational settings, the ethical dilemmas encountered, and the guidance teachers provide contribute significantly to moral development.
  • Personal Experiences and Cognitive Development: Personal experiences, including challenges and successes, shape moral understanding. As adolescents’ cognitive abilities mature, they develop more complex moral reasoning capacities.
  • Media Exposure: Media, in its various forms, exposes adolescents to diverse viewpoints, ethical dilemmas, and moral narratives, influencing their perceptions and moral judgments.
  • Religious and Spiritual Beliefs: For many adolescents, religious and spiritual beliefs provide a framework for moral development, offering specific ethical guidelines and a moral compass.
  • Socioeconomic Factors: Economic conditions and social status can influence moral development by shaping adolescents’ opportunities and challenges and their perceptions of fairness and justice.
Factors that Affect Moral and Values Development in Adolescence

These factors contribute to the development of moral and values in adolescence, helping shape the ethical framework that guides teens into adulthood.

Values of Moral Development in Adolescence

Values in moral development during adolescence are beliefs and attitudes shaping teens’ moral judgments and behaviours. These values, reflecting what is important to adolescents, can come from personal experiences, family, culture, and more.

Eight moral characteristics are commonly valued by adolescents, regardless of their cultural background.

  • Diligence: Working hard consistently and tackling tasks positively.
  • Frugality: Living a simple life and being mindful about spending and saving.
  • Honesty: Staying true to one’s duties, being punctual, and completing tasks well.
  • Discipline: Respecting and following rules set by schools, institutions, and society.
  • Politeness: Behaving kindly and respectfully in different situations.
  • Cleanliness: Maintaining both physical and mental tidiness.
  • Unity: Being open to listening to others and valuing teamwork.
  • Generosity: Showing consideration and care for others beyond oneself.

Such values represent moral virtues and standards adolescents use in self and social evaluations.

6 Stages and 3 Levels of Moral Development in Adolescence

Regarding moral development in adolescence, the one proposed by Lawrence Kohlberg is widely acknowledged; rather than solely focusing on actions, this theory emphasises the reasoning behind moral choices.

Kohlberg’s theory operates as a sequential stage theory, meaning that individuals progress through its stages in a specific order, without skipping any.

However, the transition from one stage to the next is not automatic with maturity. Instead, individuals move to the next stage when they recognise shortcomings in dealing with a moral problem.

6 Stages and 3 Levels of Moral Development in Adolescence

Kohlberg also proposed that moral development consists of six stages, which are grouped into three levels.

Level 1: Premoral or Preconventional

The first level, known as the Premoral or Preconventional stage, is where morality is externally controlled. Adolescents at this stage make decisions based on self-interest, focusing on avoiding punishment or seeking personal gain.

  • Stage 1 (Self-Protection): In this stage, the initial concern is avoiding punishment. Younger adolescents may think, “If I do this, will I get into trouble?” Their moral decisions are based on avoiding negative consequences rather than any sense of right or wrong.
  • Stage 2 (Personal Gain): Moving beyond just avoiding punishment, adolescents start to recognise the value of individual needs and desires. Their thinking changes to, “What’s in it for me?” Decisions are made based on the benefits they might receive, not yet considering broader societal norms or ethics.

Level 2: Conventional Morality

The second level, Conventional Morality, is characterised by following societal rules and norms. Adolescents begin to consider the perspectives of others and societal laws.

  • Stage 3 (Good Boy/Good Girl): In this stage, adolescents seek approval from others. Their actions are guided by what will make them look good in the eyes of peers or adults. They start to value being seen as “good” and base their actions on what will please or help others in their social circle.
  • Stage 4
    • 4.1. Law and Order: Adolescents in this stage respect authority and the rules of society. Their moral reasoning is based on maintaining social order and respecting laws and regulations. They consider the legality and societal rules, asking, “Is this against the rules?”
    • 4.2. The Cynic: A subset of adolescents in this stage start to question societal norms and values. They may show scepticism towards established rules, wondering about their rationale and whether they truly make sense.

Level 3: Postconventional or Principled Morality

The final level, Postconventional or Principled Morality, involves a more mature understanding of morality based on principles and ethics. Most adolescents do not reach this stage.

  • Stage 5 (Social Contract and Individual Rights): Adolescents start to understand the balance between societal laws and individual rights. They make decisions based on fairness, justice, and mutual respect. This time, their reasoning is more about, “Is this fair for everyone involved?” rather than just following rules.
  • Stage 6 (Universal Principles): Here comes the most advanced stage, where moral reasoning is based on universal ethical principles and the rights of all individuals. Adolescents at this stage ask themselves, “Is this the right thing to do for all people?” Their decisions are guided by an internal moral compass considering everyone’s welfare and rights.

FAQs about Moral and Values Development in Adolescence

It’s time to shed light on some of the most common questions that parents, educators, and adolescents may have about moral and values development in adolescence.

1. How do adolescents develop a sense of right and wrong?

Adolescents forge their understanding of right and wrong by engaging in moral reasoning, grappling with emotions like guilt or empathy, and absorbing the influences around them. This includes feedback from the social circles they value—family, friends, educators—and the various forms of media they consume, which all shape their moral framework.

2. What role do parents and educators play in an adolescent’s moral development?

Parents and educators significantly influence an adolescent’s moral development by offering guidance and setting a framework within which young people can explore moral issues. They create environments that balance care with expectation, stimulate moral thought through dialogue, introduce real-world ethical challenges, and foster activities that build moral character.

By exemplifying ethical behaviour themselves, they set standards for their children to observe and adopt in their personal growth.

3. How do social media and the internet influence adolescent values?

Social media and the internet deeply affect adolescent values by offering myriad perspectives and experiences that can either enhance their understanding of the world or challenge their moral compass.

Social media is a double-edged sword, enabling self-expression and connection while exposing young users to negative content and behaviours that can influence their own.

4. How do cultural differences affect moral development in adolescence?

Cultural differences significantly shape an adolescent’s moral development by instilling diverse values and beliefs.

These differences can prioritise various moral aspects like justice or harmony, highlight distinct virtues such as honesty or generosity, and draw on unique sources and authorities for moral direction, whether it’s societal norms, family traditions, or religious teachings. Each culture presents its own moral landscape for adolescents to navigate.

Shaping Future Leaders at UNIS Hanoi

The journey in shaping the ethical framework of our future leaders, including how they develop their sense of right and wrong, along with their personal values, goes beyond mere textbook learning. It blends their mental growth, emotional experiences, social interactions, and more. However, the stages outlined, drawing from Kohlberg’s theory, provide a roadmap for understanding adolescents’ complex processes as they evolve from self-centred to ethically principled individuals.

At UNIS Hanoi, understanding this complex development is integrated into our educational approach, especially through our IB Programmes, where we embed core values in educational ethos. Apply now to embark on this empowering educational journey, where moral and values development in adolescence is not just taught but lived and experienced.

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