Adolescent Moral Development

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What is Morality?

Morality refers to the way people choose to live their lives according to a set of guidelines or principles that govern their decisions about right versus wrong, and good versus evil.
What is Morality?

Moral Development

As youths' cognitive, emotional, social development continue to mature, their understanding of morality expands and their behavior becomes more closely aligned with their values and beliefs. Therefore, moral development describes the evolution of these guiding principles and is demonstrated by the ability to apply these guidelines in daily life.

An area of experimentation and risk-taking in adolescence is substance abuse. Strengthening relationships with peers and identity crises not only result in challenging moral norms but often lead to drug use that can have negative developmental consequences. Alcohol, marijuana, ecstasy (in a club or party setting), prescription opiates, sedatives and prescription stimulants are the most commonly abused drugs.


Early adolescence

Teens must make moral judgments on a daily basis.

  • When children are younger, their family, culture, and religion greatly influence their moral decision-making.
  • During the early adolescent period, peers have a much greater influence. Peer pressure can exert a powerful influence because friends play a more significant role in teens' lives.
  • Furthermore, the new ability to think abstractly enables youth to recognize that rules are simply created by other people. As a result, teens begin to question the absolute authority of parents, schools, government, and other traditional institutions.

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Late Adolescence

By late adolescence, most teens are less rebellious as they have begun to establish their own identity, their own belief system, and their own place in the world.

  • Some youth who have reached the highest levels of moral development may feel passionate about their moral code; as such, they may choose to participate in activities that demonstrate their moral convictions.
  • For example, some college students may organize and participate in demonstrations and protests while other students may volunteer their time for projects that advance the ethical principles they hold important.

Factors that Affect Moral Development

Unfortunately, some youth have life experiences that may interfere with their moral development.


Traumatic experiences can include:

  • Physical, emotional, or sexual abuse.
  • The death of a family member or close friend.
  • Witnessing senseless violence.

These types of experiences can cause them to view the world as unjust and unfair.

Social Learning

Adolescents may have also observed the adults in their life making immoral decisions that disregarded the rights and welfare of others, leading these youth to develop beliefs and values that are contrary to the rest of society.

  • Lacking a moral compass, these youth may never reach their full potential and may find it difficult to form meaningful and rewarding relationships with others.

Thus, while parents may find this process of moral development difficult or challenging, it is important to remember that this developmental step is essential to their children's well-being and ultimate success in life.

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