During their adolescent years, teens must develop a moral compass to guide them through life. Peers, family, community, and the media all play a role as teens develop their own ideas about right and wrong. Moral development guides teen's behaviour as it gives them a greater awareness of the rules of society. Not surprisingly, some teens test the limits and make unwise choices.

Moral development is an ongoing process that occurs within the context of a person's family, community and society as a whole. As teens determine what is important to them and strive to establish their own value system, the influence of others both positive and negative grows more important.

Moral development is an important part of the maturing process. Teens who develop a reliable moral compass are more likely to make positive decisions and less likely to be lured into negative behaviors. Those who don't are more likely to make poor choices and find themselves at odds with society's rules and laws.

Peer Group Pressures

Peer groups can have an enormous influence on teen's moral development. Because teens are still discovering who they are and what is important to them, they look to their peers for approval and guidance, Peers also help teens clarify their values by discussing what's important and providing feedback. Positive peer influence helps teens build stronger convictions and behave according to their values.

Teens who are separate to become more popular or to gain acceptance can be highly susceptible to negative peer pressure.. In their insecurity , they may look up to peers who break the rules and show little regard for their own well being or that of others. Instead of condemning immoral or illegal conduct, these teens imitate it in the hope of gaining praise and acceptance from others. That's how many teens get involved in drugs, drinking, sexual activity, shoplifting, and other negative behaviors that they later regret.

Popular Culture

Teen's moral development is also heavily influenced by the popular culture or the culture that prevails in modern society. Today the media tend to dominate popular culture. Television, movies, music, magazines, and advertising all portray behaviors and can influence perceptions of right and wrong.

The media sometimes present negative behaviors in ways that may seem glamorous to adolescents. A successful rock star uses vulgar language. A popular movie shows violence as an acceptable means of resolving differences. Advertisements for alcohol suggest that people really have more fun when they drink. Television programs present rude, immoral, selfish, and antisocial behaviour as amusing and harmless. Impressionable teens who are trying to establish their own identities need critical thinking skills to interpret the messages they receive from the media.

Family and Community

Parents have the primary responsibility for teaching their children moral values and helping them develop an accurate moral compass. Schools reinforce the basic values a society needs to function, such as honesty and cooperation. Many families and individuals also draw on their religious faith for moral guidance. Some teens seem to reject the values of their parents, but over time most come to recognize the importance of a healthy system of morality that all can live by. Parents who practice what they preach and who live according to their professed values are more likely to have a positive influence.

Open and honest communication within the family helps teens learn values. Parents who discuss core values such as honesty and responsibility within the context of daily life can help teens see the role these values play in keeping families and societies functioning. Teens also learn more about values by being given more responsibility within the family. As they make their own choices and their own mistakes they can learn from experience. Some teens do of course, break the rules and get into trouble. Parents who know or suspect that a teen is engaging in morality unacceptable behavior need to confront the teen. Even though teens may be reluctant to communicate with their parent's about such problems it is their parent's responsibility to help them change their inappropriate behavior.

Teens learn moral responsibility within the community too. Every community has expectations and rules to follow. Teens discover that they must follow the rules or suffer the consequences. Gradually they also recognize the reason behind the rules and laws. As they learn to respect the rules of society, teens become better prepared to live successfully in that society.

Sometimes, despite a family's best efforts, a teen seems determined to pursue immoral and harmful behaviors. In such cases, the family may need to seek outside help. The teen might be more willing to listen to a favorite teacher than to family members. Some families may choose to get assistance from a member of the clergy or a staff counsellor. Teens with serious behavorial problems may need help from professional counselors.