What do right and wrong mean to your adolescents?

By: HowStuffWorks.com Contributors

If you've raised your teenager in your house for the past 12, 15, or 18 years, he or she must have picked up a set of values from you. Either you've lectured your children on The Right Way to Run the Country, Why Women Should Stay at Home and Bring Up the Children, or Why Cigarettes are the Tools of the Devil enough times that they have a pretty good idea of where you stand on certain issues, or they've been observing you in action over the past decade: how you interact with the mailman, whether you give back the extra change if the cashier made a mistake in your favor, and if your response to indecent behavior is an indulgent chuckle or a grimace of disgust.

Teenagers do know the difference between right and wrong, but sometimes their desire to fit in with the crowd causes them to go along with behavior they ordinarily would prefer to steer clear of. The more self-esteem your teens have, the more they feel able to stand up for themselves and to make decisions that reflect their values. You can discuss with your teens how they would react if their friends suggest holding up the local 7-11 store, cutting class to drink beer, or starting up with the nuns at the convent on the corner.


Be aware, however, that messages your teens get from television, movies, and the Internet can confuse them regarding what right and wrong really are. For example, according to Assistant Professor Samineh Shaheem of the Human Relation Institute in Dubai, 70 percent of the 20 most popular U.S. television shows include sexual content [source: al Hundeidi]. When teenagers constantly watch their favorite characters engage unseemly behavior, they're likely to imitate what they see, whether it's smoking, violence, or treating members of the opposite sex with disrespect.