Where do teenagers learn about ethics? Certainly, ethical and moral development begins as a toddler makes choices and displays various kinds of behavior. It is obvious that the first people with any kind of influence on a child’s interaction with the world are the parents (and, sometimes, grandparents). Frankly, some parents are better than others when it comes to bringing up children who live ethical lives and make sound personal and group choices. But, because some parents do a poor job helping their children develop ethically, and because children make bad choices with serious consequences, other people and places have to fill in the gap. We often find out about this challenge when children become teenagers—and when teenagers enter the workplace.
Before teens apply for jobs, though, three other influences can shape their moral outlook. One is a peer group. As we all know from personal experience, peer groups have leaders, and these leaders will set the tone for the group’s behavior based on what they have learned from their family’s moral code. It takes a lot of courage for a peer group member to stand up and say, “I won’t do that! It’s so wrong!”
Schools have taken a leadership role so young people receive basic lessons in civic values. For example, for several years, Peoria’s District 150 has offered the Word-a-Week program so teachers can help students become familiar with this moral standard. Religious schools such as Peoria Christian and Notre Dame High School can incorporate religious values into moral teaching and help students to integrate faith into life.
When a young person is an active part of a church, synagogue or mosque, ordained leaders, church school teachers and youth group leaders can have a positive moral influence on their participants. Church camps and prayer groups can also be effective ethics labs.
So how do businesses assist in a young person’s moral development? Teens are frequently front-line workers, so there may not be much screening, selection or training in the hiring process. Businesses may only offer very basic lessons in ethics, like “No stealing” or “Pay attention to your customers.” Another approach with teens may be through internship programs which teach not only what is involved in certain kinds of jobs, but also the core values of the company or industry.
When businesses hire people, whether teens or adults, they add employees who come with their own value systems and ethical viewpoints. These patterns may or may not match the value system of the business—or, the ideas may be aligned, but when it comes to specific choices and situations, the business and the employees may diverge. An adult may very well be set in his or her ways and unable to adapt to the ethical stance of the business. The teen, however, is in a formative stage and can be very teachable. So what kinds of ethical teaching do you want to provide to the teens you hire? IBI