Teenagers and Moral Development

There’s been a lot of discussion on the intellectual development of teenagers. Plenty of people are concerned with whether or not certain activities promote intellectual development. They want to make sure that teenagers are not permanently stunting their brain growth by drinking or by doing other activities. However, the moral development of teenagers doesn’t tend to get anywhere near as much focus. The processes are related, but they are not synonymous, and creating people of character is extremely important for the functioning of any society.

We do live in a time when brains are all-important. Teenagers face more pressure than ever when it comes to getting into a good college and getting merit scholarships or financial aid. College costs just keep on rising, and many parents would not even be able to afford college if their teens were not good enough students. In the rush to get our kids ready for college, a lot of parents are forgetting how important life will be after college. College doesn’t last for very long. Teenagers are also learning all the worst lessons from the competitive rush to get into the best college possible.

Liberal parents are often shocked at the extent to which society is often based on cutthroat competition, and the fact that the capitalist system in general tends to outright encourage this sort of behavior. It should be noted that many capitalists learn this sort of behavior when they are still in their teen years. They learn that it’s more important to beat the system than it is to use it for the greater good. Our academic system rewards cheaters who are able to get away with it largely because it doesn’t effectively test teens on the actual knowledge that they have accumulated. The credentials are all that matters, and those are relatively easy to fake or falsify.

Finding a way to stop your teen from succumbing to this sort of behavior can seem like a very daunting task, and it is. Just repeating platitudes about how cheating is wrong isn’t going to help them, and it certainly isn’t going to do anything other than teach them that cheating is wrong. Moral development in general is important. However, encouraging moral development is no easy task, so it is understandable that many parents never quite work it into their list of tasks with their teens.

I’ve found that volunteer work honestly can help. Teens need to be able to really get a sense of the people in society who are less fortunate than them. They need to have their eyes opened in more ways than one. Teenagers live extremely sheltered existences, and with good reason. We want to protect them, giving them a solid basis from which they can explore the world. However, teenagers still need to get their comfortable worldview shaken up somewhat if they are going to learn anything in the way of moral development.

Teenagers who do something dramatic, like volunteer in developing countries, will often more or less come back as changed individuals. However, parents don’t have to do anything that dramatic in order to make sure that their teens are getting exposed to the way the world really is. Parents who spend a lot of time talking to their teens about global concerns will stand a better chance of making them realize the way the world really is outside of their windows. Discussing current events can also be something of a family bonding exercise.

It should also be noted that even volunteering at a homeless shelter or a nursing home can make all the difference for sheltered teens. They can see what it’s like for people who are truly lacking in privilege. They will also be that much more resistant to the conservative idea that people who lack privilege somehow brought it on themselves. Life is not a classroom, and teens need to learn that sooner rather than later.