Case Exploration: Teenage Moral Development

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Lifespan development refers to the complete process of human development, from birth to death. It implies a holistic and multi-dimensional approach to revealing and understanding the psychological, cognitive, emotional, as well as social changes that individuals undergo throughout their lifetime. The purpose of this paper is to conduct an in-depth analysis of a person in question, Rebecca, through the lens of a particular lifespan development stage, which is her teenage years.

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The analysis will apply scientific theories of lifespan development, such as Kohlberg’s theory, which focuses on the emergence of morality and moral reasoning in individuals. Considering the fact that Rebecca is not in her teenage years, her behaviors, such as using drugs and getting influenced by a peer group, illustrate her struggle to develop moral reasoning because it has not yet developed fully.

Kohlberg’s Moral Development Theory

Kohlberg’s moral development theory explains how children develop morality and moral reasoning as they grow up, suggesting that moral development takes place in a series of six stages. The approach builds upon Piaget’s stages of development, although Kohlberg believed that not all individuals would progress to the highest stages of moral development (Yilmaz, Bahçekapili, & Sevi, 2019). The three distinct levels of moral reasoning include preconventional, conventional, and postconventional.

Preconventional morality begins at birth and lasts to around the age of nine, with the decisions of individuals being predominantly shaped by adults’ expectations and the implications of breaking the rules. The first level is divided into two stages, stage one, obedience and punishment, and stage two, individualism and exchange. Obedience and punishment apply to very young children, with rules at the stage being perceived as absolute. Individualism and exchange is the stage in which children account for separate points of view and act on the way in which they serve their needs.

Conventional morality refers to the period of moral development in which an individual begins accepting social rules regarding righteousness and goodness. Adolescents and adults at this stage internalize their ethical standards as related to what they have learned from society. Stage three, developing good interpersonal relationships, implies the adherence to the social norms and expectations, while stage four, maintaining social order, is associated with people starting to consider society in general when making judgments. The final level, postconventional morality, implies the development of people’s understanding of morality’s abstract principles. Stage five, social contract and individual rights, suggests that individuals start considering differing opinions, values, and beliefs that others may have. Stage six, universal principle, is the final level of moral development that implies the use of universal ethical principles and abstract reasoning.

Case Exploration: Rebecca’s Conventional Morality

Rebecca is a sixteen-year-old young woman that goes to high school. She is very smart and usually gets good grades at school, and learning has never been an issue for her. Throughout the preconventional stage of moral development, the girl has learned about the expectations that adults have for her as well as what happens when she breaks the established rules. She is very outgoing and friendly and tends to go out with friends most of the time but hates being home. As Rebecca has developed new relationships with a group of peers whom she finds ‘cool,’ she got influenced by them to try weed and other recreational drugs. While she understands that smoking weed is morally wrong and knows the consequences of it, such as the possibility of getting addicted, she does it anyway because it is accepted and celebrated in her peer group.

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Rebecca is currently at the second level of moral development, conventional morality, and specifically at the point of developing good interpersonal relationships. At this stage, teenagers are highly focused on living up to social expectations and roles in order to fit in with the desired group of peers. As a result of that, a teenager will usually adopt the societal norms of their own. Recognizing that there is no easy solution to moral dilemmas, an individual at this stage will test the limits of personal morality to align with social expectations. It is clear that Rebecca understands right from wrong and has already gone through the preconventional stage of development, with the majority of her behaviors focusing on alignment with the expectations and norms of her peer group.

In addition, the girl’s parents have discovered that their daughter was smoking and punished her for the behavior. However, Rebecca began smoking again despite her parents’ warning that they would perform a random drug test on her at any time and that she would get into trouble. The girl tends to dismiss her parents over and over again and acts as if she does not care about their opinion. Therefore, at the stage of conventional development of morality, it is essential to consider the influence of peers on Rebecca’s choice to use drugs, even though they are legal in her state.

Peer Influence

Researchers have extensively studied the relationship between socialization and teenage and adolescent marijuana use. According to the study by Tucker et al. (2014), when high-risk behaviors are not generally visible within the peer group, close friendships that young people development can be even more important and salient. Besides, more trusted friendships can be a source of marijuana use in the age group with teenagers, and adolescents are more likely to experiment with weed use because they feel safe and worry less about getting caught. Thus, socialization plays a crucial role in young people’s marijuana smoke and may be moderated by the social status of the friends who are using drugs. Specifically, Tucker et al. (2014) found that popular young people are more likely to use marijuana than other substances as well as influence the behaviors in their peer groups.

Consistent with the theory of moral development, such findings indicate that teenagers and adolescents who belong to peer groups that engage in marijuana use are highly likely to engage in the behavior themselves. Individuals who are less popular are likely to adopt the behaviors of friends who are more popular than themselves compared to individuals with lower or comparable popularity because such behavior has greater social benefits. Thus, in an attempt to build good social relationships, which is a stage of conventional morality development, Rebecca has shown to conform to the social expectations of her friend group.

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Rejecting Authority

Another point to mention regarding Rebecca’s process of moral development is the fact that she tends to reject the authority of her parents. The girl is very smart and has not had any trouble with school grades, but she consistently chooses to engage in smoking weed. As a teenager, Rebecca makes moral judgments on a daily basis, and the choice to ignore her parents’ authority speaks of the young woman’s misalignment with the values and expectations that her parents have set for her (Aoki, 2019).

There may be some deeper-rooted issues that should be resolved between Rebecca and her parents since her rebellion against them will further the gap between their perspectives on morality and acceptable behaviors. This does not mean that Rebecca’s moral compass does not work; instead, her values are different, and she may not find as much harm with using marijuana recreationally as her parents do. Because the young woman is deeply connected to her circle of friends and prefers spending time with them rather than being at home, it is evident that the improvement of Rebecca’s relationship with her parents will take time.


As teenagers develop close relationships with peers, they are more likely to be influenced by the latter’s values, perspectives, and behaviors. Rebecca’s analysis of morality development has shown that the creation of strong interpersonal connections plays an integral part in her formation of a moral compass and the understanding of her personal need for conformity. Her peer group has impacted the young woman’s choice to smoke weed, and it does not mean that she has been pressured. Instead, Rebecca has been developing her own perspective on morality and deciding that smoking marijuana is not a major problem for her, especially due to her doing well at school. It is expected that in further stages of moral development, Rebecca will reconsider her attitude toward smoking weed as she begins to consider social norms as a whole when making moral judgments.


Aoki, S. (2019). The role of parental expectations and self-beliefs on academic stress and depression among Asian American undergraduates. Arizona State University. Web.

Tucker, J., de la Haye, K., Kennedy, D., Green, H., & Pollard, M. (2014). Peer influence on marijuana use in different types of friendships. Journal of Adolescent Health, 54, 64-73.

Yilmaz, O., Bahçekapili, H., & Sevi, B. (2019). Theory of moral development. Encyclopedia of Evolutionary Psychological Science. Web.

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"Case Exploration: Teenage Moral Development." PsychologyWriting, 27 July 2022,


PsychologyWriting. (2022) 'Case Exploration: Teenage Moral Development'. 27 July.


PsychologyWriting. 2022. "Case Exploration: Teenage Moral Development." July 27, 2022.

1. PsychologyWriting. "Case Exploration: Teenage Moral Development." July 27, 2022.


PsychologyWriting. "Case Exploration: Teenage Moral Development." July 27, 2022.