What Are the Causes of Teenagers' Lack of Moral Values & Self-Discipline?

Even the most principled and dedicated parents sometimes find that their teenagers do not display appropriate moral values and self-discipline. These undisciplined and amoral behaviors can stem from several causes, both biological and environmental. Attentive parenting and in more severe cases, professional intervention, can help teenagers reach their full potential, however.

Teenagers are not equipped to make morally reasoned choices like adults. (Image: Jupiterimages/Pixland/Getty Images)

Developmental Influences

The human brain continues to develop until adolescents reach their 20s. Thus, teenagers do not have the same capacity for reasoned decision-making and self-discipline as adults. Likewise, moral development is a process that lasts throughout adolescence. Teenagers, and in particular, young teens, are not developmentally and biologically able to exercise moral reasoning like an adult or older adolescent. Thus, some degree poor decision-making skills and amoral behavior is developmentally normal.

Parental Influences

Although teenagers may not have the same decision-making capacity as adults, parental influences can affect the way that a teen behaves and makes choices. In particular, parental behavior plays an important role in how teenagers make decisions. For example, if a teenager sees his parents acting impulsively or making poor choices such as neglecting household responsibilities or skipping work, the teen might believe that he is entitled to make similar choices. Similarly, parents or caregivers abuse or neglect children, they may develop immoral or impulsive behaviors, explains the Child Welfare Information Gateway.

Society, Media, and Peers

During the adolescent years, peer influences play an important role in teenagers’ choices. Because peer acceptance is a crucial part of most teens’ sense of self and increasing need to separate from the family system, adolescents sometimes base their choices on their friends’ opinions, rather than what is morally right or responsible, according to the American Psychological Association. Generally, teenagers will outgrow this type of behavior as they reach adulthood. Additionally, media influences, such as television and celebrity behavior can affect a teen’s behavior, particularly if they do not have strong role models.

Mental Health Concerns

Teenagers with more severe mental health issues can also display poor moral values and a lack of self-discipline. For example, teens with conduct disorder, oppositional defiant disorder or teens who were abused as children may show little empathy for others and make poor choices and have difficulty controlling their impulses, explains the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry. Only a qualified mental health professional or pediatrician can determine whether a teen’s choices and self-restraint are developmentally normal or require professional intervention.

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