How to Teach your Teen Morals in the Twenty first Century

We live in a society where almost every level of morality is tolerated. Teens face pressure from many directions to experiment sexually, try drugs and alcohol, lie and cheat to get ahead, and a host of other temptations. You may feel like the only positive influence in your teen’s life. However, you shouldn’t underestimate your impact. You are the biggest influence in your teen’s life. If you are committed, you can have the influence you want, and your teen can develop the moral fiber to stand up to these pressures.

Be an example

The most important aspect of teaching your teen morals is to be the example. This doesn’t mean you have to be perfect, but your lifestyle and choices should match the decisions you want your teen to make. If you are making irresponsible decisions, you cannot realistically expect your teen to do better. He has to see you making the right choices, and he has to see that those choices bring positive results. He needs to see that your positive choices make you happy, and that you are able to make those choices consistently. This will help your positive lifestyle seem both possible and desirable.

If you frequently make immoral decisions, then try to tell your teen to make moral decisions, you are sending a double message. This will confuse him, because your actions say the behavior is okay, while your words say it is not. Your teen will be unable to respect you because the things you say don’t match the things you do. In fact he will see you as a hypocrite with a double standard. Even if you have good intentions, if you try to tell him anything related to morality, he will remind you that you don’t practice what you preach.

Gain his respect

Being the example is an important part of gaining your teen’s respect, but it is only the beginning. You will have to demonstrate to your teen that you mean what you say. If he disobeys, you must impose a consequence—every time. Consequences should be inconvenient and unpleasant for your teen, enforceable, reasonable, and appropriate to the offense. Consequences should be logical and appropriate for the offense, and you need to hold your teen to them. For example, if your teen fails to do his homework, you might take away his phone, since this could be the reason he didn’t do it in the first place. Just make sure you do enforce the consequence. If you don’t, consequences won’t mean anything. Staying true to your word adds to your credibility and gains your teen’s respect.

Guard against being too strict. This can teach your teen to fear you or resent you without respecting you. You don’t want him to respond to you out of fear—you want him to respond out of respect. The difference is that a fear-based response is one of survival. You become the enemy he has to survive against. He will lie, hide, pretend, become hostile, or even escape just to survive childhood. He will feel like he can’t wait to grow up and be done with childhood. He might obey, but out of fear rather than out of a sense of right and wrong. In this case, he doesn’t learn to make decisions for moral reasons, but out of fear. He learns how to keep you pacified, without learning about morality. He may become resentful towards you and towards morality, subconsciously connecting morality with oppression, because the two seemed to go together throughout his childhood.

On the other hand, if you are too lenient, your teen will not learn clear boundaries of right and wrong. He will get used to having his way all the time, and come to expect to always get what he wants. When you do try to set a boundary on him, he won’t feel compelled to abide by it. Being overly permissive can cost you most or all of your influence in your teen’s life.

Take a logical, rational approach to parenting. Avoid losing your temper or getting overly emotional in front of your teen. Make decisions concerning your teen and consequences according to what’s right, not according to your emotions. If your teen sees that you can’t control your emotions, how can you expect your teen to learn to control his? Furthermore, you teen will figure out ways to manipulate and control you.  Keep your emotions in check at all costs, and make rational choices, and your teen will follow suit.

Expose him to positive influences

While your influence is very important, your teen has reached a stage in his life where he sees himself as an individual who can make choices separate from his family. He needs to see that you are not the only family that leads a moral lifestyle. You can accomplish this by establishing relationships in the community with like-minded families and individuals. You can find people like this at church, youth groups, scouting troops, your school’s PTA meetings, and many more places.

Close involvement with like-minded families is beneficial because other families can reinforce your beliefs in the mind of your teen. The more moral families your teen sees regularly, the more your morality will seem normal and become ingrained. This is also beneficial for the parents. You can support each other and offer advice about difficult decisions. Parenting is a tough job, and extra support can go a long way.

Youth activities such as church youth groups and scouting provide excellent opportunities for your teen to study morality and ask questions to other adults. Sometimes, teens have questions that they don’t feel like asking their parents. These groups and activities also provide opportunities for your teen to find positive friendships.

Know his friends

The largest competing influence you will experience for your teen’s morality is his peer group. You cannot control the friends he chooses, but you can stay involved with his social life. Most pressure on teens to make negative choices comes from peers. If your teen forms friendships with negative influences, you can try to prohibit him from being friends with them, but this often does not work. You are better off to work with, rather than against, your teen.

Your teen does not have to be influenced by his negative friends. With your help, he can be the one to influence them. Don’t allow him to spend much time with them away from home, but invite them over frequently. Have open communication with your teen about these friends. Work towards becoming a trusted resource for his friends. They may be negative influences because of their home situations. Be the adult they can count on. Seize opportunities to talk to them about morality and choices. Just be careful not to lecture them. Support them in their positive choices and aspirations. Your goal is to make them feel comfortable around you. Let them see that you care. Laugh with them. Seek to understand them. Remember, they won’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.

Whatever positive friendships your teen makes on his own, encourage these friendships. You can allow your teen more freedom with these friends. However, you should also take time to get to know them and influence them positively as well. Your home can be a place where your teen’s friends love to hang out.

Monitor his communications

Technology has changed the way people communicate, even the way families communicate with each other. Teens can communicate through text messaging, social networks, message boards, and even their gaming consoles. While most parents find it difficult to keep up with all the latest technology, try to monitor your teen’s communications. 

When you first get him his phone, make him agree to allow you to go through his phone at any time. Talk to him about his online communications and make sure he understands the dangers of talking to people he doesn’t know. If you don’t trust your teen to make wise choices, don’t get him a smart phone, because he will have unlimited Internet access. Require him to be friends with you on Facebook, Twitter, and other social websites. This will allow you to see everything he posts on these sites. Don’t let him have a computer in his room. Require him to do his browsing in the family room. Of course, he can earn this privilege once he gets older, by consistently making positive choices. 

Keep the lines of communication open

Your teen should know that he can talk to you and be honest with you about the issues of his life. He is going to make bad decisions no matter how good he is. When that happens, he needs to understand he can talk to you about it without feeling condemned. While this doesn’t mean you shouldn’t impose consequences, he needs to know he can trust you, and that you are there to help him during a difficult and important stage in his life. He is transitioning to adulthood and doesn’t know his way. He needs help but doesn’t want to admit it. His life is just beginning, yet the choices he makes today can affect him for the rest of his life. If he knows he can trust you, he will talk to you and involve you in many of his important decisions, and your influence will only grow over time.

Technology continues to change, and society’s ideas on morality also change, but the basics of influencing your child are the same as they have always been: be the example, keep open lines of communication, be an involved parent, be consistent, enforce what you say. Society and technology will never change the fact that parents are the most important influence in a teenager’s life.