Parenting books and articles often highlight the importance of teaching our tweens and teens good morals. But what exactly are “moral values”? Why are they important? And what is the best way to teach them?
At their most basic level, moral values are the guiding principles that give us a sense of what is right or wrong. They are those hard-to-define notions that we hold dear and that guide the decisions we make.
Values are all around us. Love your neighbor, honesty, integrity, kindness, being fair, tolerance, compassion, empathy, dignity, trust, respect… the list goes on and on. Our values are evident in what we say, what we do, and what we choose not to say or do.
When children grow up into their teens their values and thought processes are affected by the events taking place in their lives, including the movies they watch, ideas taught by teachers, homelife, etc. However, the books they read also have a deep impact on their mindset. A recent study has indicated that moral values developed by teenagers depend a lot on the books they read.
Lindsay Hahn, associated with the University at Buffalo College of Arts and Sciences led the study. Hahn said, “Media can distinctly influence separate moral values and get kids to place more or less importance on those values depending on what is uniquely emphasized in that content.”
Hahn’s study analyses how exposure to moral values-related content affects the mindset of teens. Psychologists have often blamed content used in TV, movies and the web for affecting youth’s mindset and they attribute many instances of childhood violence to these contents. But, books are also crucial in this regard.
Moral values can be imparted to young people through books
According to the study’s findings, children reading about particular moral traits in books soak these values and ideas in their minds, albeit unknowingly. While the children may receive morality lessons in their classes, the books they read can also affect their values. So using the apt type of books can be useful in imparting positive values in the youngsters.
Hahn adds, “Parents, caregivers, and teachers are often wondering how media can be used for good. How can it be used for good things? How can it discourage bad habits? How can it be educated?”
The answer can be found in using media in the right ways. She says, “When parents are considering what media they might want to select for their children, they can take into account what particular moral value is being emphasized by the main character, and how the main character is treated because of those actions.”
To carry out this study, Hahn and her colleagues used a young adult novel and they edited the content. They edited the original content to put focus on 4 moral values. A fifth version was created to introduce an amoral main character. These narratives were given to 200 participants who were below 14 years. The team created a scale meant to assess importance given by the kids to specific moral values. This was done to assess the impact of the specific narratives on their mind.
While the study findings do look interesting, Hahn admits measuring these effects on the mindset of young readers can be hard. The study findings were published in the Journal of Media Psychology. The study can be used in the future to serve as a reference for testing media effects on youngsters.
Hahn was assisted in carrying out this study by several co-authors. They include Michigan State University’s professor Ron Tamborini, Dartmouth College postdoctoral researcher Clare Grall, and University of Georgia’s postdoctoral researcher Eric Novotny.