Cultural Influence on Teen Behavior & Morality

Culture can be a powerful influence on the behavior and morality of adolescents.
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The social norms, beliefs, language and mores of a society define its culture. The influence of culture can have both positive and negative effects on a teen's behavior and moral development. With the magnetic pull of pop culture and the frequent displays of sexual and violent images in film, television and music, teens sometimes seek to emulate what they see and hear, often to the consternation of their parents. With such a complex issue, it's important to examine not only the cultural interplay of popular culture on a teen's behavior and moral development, but also the mix of peer influences and family traditions.

1 Peer Influences

Parents often worry about who their teen is spending time with because they want to protect their child from negative influences. However, adolescent friendships are an important part of a teen's development and can be a source of self-esteem and interpersonal growth. Teens become friends with people who have similar values and behavior as their own. For example, if a teen is having deep emotional problems or thinking of engaging in dangerous behavior, close friends may try to offer advice or deter him from making a costly mistake. Additionally, adolescents tend to mirror the values and beliefs passed on to them from their parents and close family members. According to the article, “Friendships, Peer Influence, and Peer Pressure During the Teen Years,” teens usually have similar political and religious beliefs as their parents. In essence, a teen's personal value system may help overcome the negative peer influences over time.

2 Sex in Popular Culture

The debate about whether sexual images and intimate situations shown in television and film influence teen behavior and moral choices has often produced more questions than answers. The topic of sex is not a comfortable discussion for most parents to broach, so teens sometimes turn to their friends and popular media for guidance. In an article from the American Journal of Nursing, “Sex and Violence in the Media Influence Teen Behavior,” researchers studied teenagers over a four-year period and found that teens who consumed shows that displayed frequent sexual content were more likely to indulge in sexual activity and become pregnant. However, an April 2012 report issued by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention states that teen pregnancies in the U.S. have decreased 9 percent over the past few years.

3 Violence in Television and Film

Some people blame the rise of gun deaths and other violent crimes on the proliferation of violent images in film, television and popular video games. This, too, has been a contentious debate with no black and white conclusions. According to an article on Mail Online, “Violent Images in Movies, TV or Computer Games Can Act as Triggers for Aggression,” an international panel suggests that regular consumption of violent media images such as computer games and comic books by children may induce dormant, aggressive tendencies. Not all teens will be influenced by violent images; however, decreasing the amount of disturbing images a teen views in the home might be beneficial in lowering the probability of aggression.

4 Family Cultural Traditions

Ethnic traditions passed down through a family's generations can influence a teen's morality and behavior. Family traditions can help a teen maintain social bonds within the community and instill acceptable codes of behavior. Religious faiths such as Islam, Judaism and Christianity can influence the way a teen dresses, worships and interacts with her peers. For example, an orthodox Christian teen may choose to forgo popular teen music or dress in a conservative fashion compared to teens who follow more secular traditions. Additionally, teens may be required to observe special rituals involving food and prayer such as Ramadan, Lent and Hanukkah. Families with strong religious and cultural traditions usually impact a teen's morality and behavior.

Sandra Campbell is a writer, actor and corporate language trainer. She has taught ESL courses for adults and children and was honored with language trainer of the year in 2006. Campbell self-published “A Practical Guide to Learning American English” in 2010. She also writes screenplays, articles and poetry and has performed in film and theater productions.