Healthy Ways to Shape Moral & Ethical Behaviors in Children & Teens


During childhood and adolescence, young people’s understanding of moral and ethical behavior changes quickly, concurrent with their cognitive development, explains the Association for Middle Level Education. Although most young people naturally grow up to adopt the morals and ethics of the society in which they live, parents play an important role in shaping these behaviors. By being proactive and sharing your expectations with your child, you could foster moral and ethical behaviors in healthy, positive ways.


  • Parents have a significant effect on their children’s behavior. Rick Naurt of PyschCentral explains that teenagers and younger children often emulate their parents' behavior, even if they understand that it might not be perfect. Thus, setting a good example for your children by telling the truth, helping others and living according to your family’s values and morals can play a significant role in your child’s ethical development.

Rules and Boundaries

  • Setting rules and boundaries is an important way to establish healthy expectations for your child. Although young people lack the cognitive ability to make moral and ethical decisions in the same way as adults, letting your children know what type of behavior you expect from them can give them a strong moral and ethical grounding. When setting rules, however, it is important to be flexible. Setting rules that are too rigid can lead to rebellious behavior, particularly in older teens.

Providing Constructive Feedback

  • When you see your child or teenager acting in appropriate ways—for example, helping an elderly neighbor carry in her groceries—reinforce this behavior with praise. Likewise, if you observe your child bullying others or making rude comments, talking about why these behaviors are hurtful and wrong can reinforce your expectations.

Community Groups

  • Involving your child or teenager in community groups can effectively reinforce the message you are promoting at home. If you are religious or spiritual, enrolling your family in a church, synagogue, mosque or other religious organization can help your child see morals and ethics from a broader perspective. If your family is not religious or spiritual, secular volunteer organizations, such as animal shelters and soup kitchens, can provide you and your family with ways to give back to the community while sharing time together. Following up these shared experiences with discussions of the importance of giving back to others can also help your child gain a healthy moral and ethical bearing.


  • Photo Credit Comstock Images/Comstock/Getty Images
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