Life presents us with a series of choices. Sometimes, this involves making a decision based on an understanding of what is right and wrong. Some of these choices are easy to make (we know, for example, that it is wrong to steal and therefore, most people do not do it). Other choices are not so simple (we know it is wrong to steal but what if we saw a friend steal? It is still wrong but do we choose to tell and in so doing risk our friendship?).
It is widely believed that the morality of young people is on the decline. Supporters of this view point to the evidence:
an increase in underage sex and pregnancy
escalating drug abuse – this involves the use and abuse of a range of substances including alcohol, tobacco, and controlled drugs
antisocial behaviour – this involves thoughtless behaviour, including swearing, which prevents other people from enjoying their environment
an increase in the amount of criminal damage caused by young people
an increase in petty crime involving young people – this includes shoplifting, breaking into and stealing cars, and theft
an increase in violence – there is an increase in the number of violent attacks committed by young people; some attacks have involved the use of weapons, including knives and, particularly in the USA, guns
some young people lack basic social skills and manners.
What are the possible causes?‘Children grow up too soon these days; they do things too early.’ It is argued that young people experience things that previously they would have experienced as adults. The suggestion is that they lack the maturity to deal with experiences such as sexual relationships, and this is why sexual relationships among teenagers are increasingly ending in childhood pregnancy.
‘People today are too obsessed with material things; they have got all their values wrong.’ Are people too preoccupied with material things such as CD players, mobile phones, and computers? Has this led to a lack of understanding of key values such as honesty, love, tolerance, and consideration?
‘Children are brought up differently; they are encouraged to question, and to demand their rights, though they often forget about their responsibilities.’ Certainly, society is very different to what it was in, for example, Victorian times, when children ‘knew their place’. Education was about instruction and socially, children were ‘to be seen and not heard’. Today, children are encouraged to be inquisitive, to question, and to confront. Sometimes this can be interpreted as a challenge and lack of respect.
‘There is an underclass of young people for whom school is an irrelevance and the prospect of getting a job unlikely. With no future to work for, they spend their time indulging in antisocial and immoral activities.’ Some people are bitter, they feel that society has treated them unfairly and therefore they feel that they are justified in taking actions that society considers to be immoral.
Who is responsible?parents? Babies are not born good or bad; they are socialized or taught how to behave in society. Parents encourage or discourage certain behaviour in all kinds of situations – at home, in the shops, and with other people. Children are not born with a sense of morality, although they develop one chiefly from seeing the actions and behaviour of their parents; they learn from the instructions of their parents, and also from the example that their parents set.
teachers? Schools and teachers are charged with the whole education of the child. This includes education in a formal sense – maths, English, and science, and also in a personal and social sense to ‘equip children with the skills necessary to play an active and positive part in society’. This involves teaching children about what is right and wrong; what is acceptable and unacceptable. This has developed into teaching basic parenting skills.
the media? Scenes of sex and violence are much more prevalent on the television and on film than they used to be. Do these images encourage children to mimic the things they see?
the government? Does the government have a role to play? Should it set a good example to everyone? Should it be ploughing money into projects to help educate young people about what is right and wrong, and if so, would this work?
children? What responsibility do the children bear in all of this? Children are considered to be capable of distinguishing between right and wrong by the age of ten. Many children do things that they know to be wrong.
a curfew? (a law that requires children to be indoors by a certain time in the evening)
greater punishments for children who knowingly step out of line?
should parents be punished for the crimes committed by their children?
better, more formal, training for parents?
perhaps both parents and teachers should spend more time reflecting on morality with their children, considering the options that children will have in their life and the consequences of taking certain actions.
While there is evidence of a decline in behaviour among young people, and statistics reflect an ever-worsening situation, there are many other people who argue that the situation is no worse today than it ever was. Also, although some young people choose to behave badly, the large majority does not.
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