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How do you teach your teenagers ethics and values?

My teenagers live with their religious father and are all turning into good church-going believers. I don't want to push anything on them but I would like to present rational values to them so that as they face the challenges of life, they have other ideas to consider. Any resources you can suggest on teaching teens morals outside a religious structure?

Edited to add: I've been teaching them by example since they were little. Their dad is controlling, though, and they've been taught I'm a sinner who they shouldn't trust. I am sort of holding my breath to see how things work out when they become adults. I'd really like some resources to add to my example.

UpsideDownAgain 7 June 26

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Practice what you preach. In otherwords, show them what a moral, empathic, human being looks like.


Socratic method.


Begin teaching ethics and morals and empathy, when they are babes.... children are smart... if you're asking about your teenagers, missed the boat. It's too late for you... have a nice Wal-Mart

It is sad that we concentrate education in the teenage years, since according to some very good neurological science, the human brain melts down during the teenage years as in converts from the childs brain to an adults, so that those are the worst years for learning.


Last month, I got a lapful of glitter, opening a Mother’s Day card from my daughter Claire, 29. Reminds me of when she was a girl.

I feel deeply touched by Claire’s heartwarming letter.

"You've taught me how to love unconditionally and forgive," Claire wrote. I feel thrilled.

I did that by forgiving Claire. Her dad's family hangs onto grudges like a dog with a bone. We are role models for our children.


Oh, how I love you. Thank you for teaching me so many skills I’m now using as a wife and family members (her in-laws).

You’ve taught me to slow down, take care of my things and pay attention to detail.

You’ve taught me how to love unconditionally and forgive.

You’ve taught me to cook healthy meals. I use your recipes all the time! You’ve taught me to take care of my appearance and stay heathy and active.

Mom, I hope you know how stunning and gorgeous you are inside and out. Matt always says he knows I will always be fit since you are. I love and appreciate you beyond words.

You take such good care of us in every way. We can’t wait to see you soon; we hope your foot heals up well.

I can’t wait to build a hiking relationship with you, Mom. We love you so much!

Love, Claire, Matt and Cocoa


  1. Claire, 21, and me at Christmas. Mad at both parents (we had a united front), Claire protested scooting closer to me for the photo. See her fake smile? Ha. 2012

  2. Claire, 27, was a volunteer model for a pop-up store owned by a friend.

  3. Claire, 29, and Matt's 34, wedding in Sept. 2018 at Lake Chelan.


You have an influence over them more than what you realize to spite who they live with, just talking to them about things and letting them know, they don't have to follow any one set of rules or whatever. One doesn't need any kind of religious structure to have good ethics and values. You show them and tell them what you know and what works for you and what others do doesn't always work for everyone. To keep an open mind and be non judgmental is a start in the right direction.


Lead by example. Talk about specific issues when they come up. Don't try to give them a whole doctrine of how to act.

I find an effective way is to talk about these things in relevance to other people. It's much less threatening to them specifically. I talk about stuff way to much to use her as the only example and right or wrong gossiping is fun. Seems to hold conversation. If she is talking about one of the kids at school or celebreties and influencers. Also news stories about social issues and climate change and stuff. It's easy to overdo it and turn them off. Teens will tune you out if you push it to much or try to hard.

Listen to them and give real input. Someone mentioned this below and that's the most important. Listen and try not to criticize much and talk about stuff with them that they bring up.

MsAl Level 8 June 26, 2019

Oh I just read them a little Revelations and Leviticus. 😉


I try to be a good example. I try to live according to my values without making a huge show of it, but am also not shy about appearing "different" when I believe I'm doing the right thing.

Carin Level 8 June 26, 2019

Specifically, I do volunteer work, eat vegetarian, recycle, pick up litter, conserve energy and try to practice kindness much as possible. I speak out against sexism, racism and all the other isms.


By teaching your two and three year olds ethics and and values.


Since they live with him he may end up being the larger influence on them. You could start by being open with them in a non combative way regarding your non belief and then continue to show them your goodness in the way you act.


I believe ethics and values are not taught in the teen years. You can only remind a child about them.

I have read that the moral core of a child is formed by the age of 7 and that is what is going to work for them for the rest of their lives. That core will stop them from or make them think before doing a bad thing. All else after that age is a learned behavior - by observing parents, friends, teachers and the outside world.

I was told by an elder a long time ago that the child will learn the most by observing you early on not so much from your words.

If you daughters are swayed by their father, I think it is not a permanent impact because it will not be their core belief. A learned behavior can change. Do you get to meet them? If yes, I would subtly tell them in natural conversations that their life made of decisions they will make in life and they will reap the benefits or pay a price for their decisions. You or anyone cannot stop them. However, they should be freethinkers to decide who they want to be, not because someone is telling them.

you sure got that right, Catholics have always said, give me a child by the age of 10 and they will be a Catholic forever!!
ask me how I know this: married 3 of them, they swore to god they did not believe it, but .. it always seemed to be creeping around them and try to get on me

, which no way is that happening!! and everyone one of them said that when they grew up they wanted to be a Priest which just about gave the priest and their mothers an orgasm!!


By example.

Most important. To much do as I say, not as I do, in this world already.


There are several things you can do. First, you can model the behaviors you want to instill. Second, you can tell them that you believe that all people should develop and live by strong moral codes on their own without relying solely on religious ideology. Third, you can point out to them, respectfully, that religious people who are judgmental of others are not living up their own purported religious beliefs.

Yeah, that about sums it up.


Bring up things like evolution. Ask them what they think. respect their replies. Encourage discusion.

MrDMC Level 7 June 27, 2019

By example


As a person who grew up religious I would sit them down and just have a nice chat without God in the conversation.


I might suggest posing hypothetical situations, ask them how they'd handle said situation... and then ask why they'd handle it that way. Essentially if you can get them thinking about why certain actions are 'good' or 'bad' in situations, you are teaching them critical thinking. Alternatively, rather than hypotheticals, you can bring up stories from the news, your life, etc...


That sucks big-time

bobwjr Level 10 June 29, 2019

If they're being guided by biblical values, your best bet is to work against that to obviate or at least minimize the damage of a religious foundation by pointing out that it's not okay to judge others, or hate the gays, or disbelieve science.

I'd also point out that magic people aren't real but that's your call.


I raised my son as a single mother. His dead beat dad split early on. I tried to just be an example of being trustworthy and responsible. He's a good man. He did turn out much more conservative than his mother. 😉


Teenagers are pretty much set in their ways, and any attempts to alter their beliefs will be taken as a form of judgement on your part. The best way to introduce different valves is by example. Show how to look at the other perceptions in the world. My rule, only remind my grandchildren that there are 112 levels of reality to choose from. The limited will sticks to their first thought, but, the limitless will explore all 111 different ways. We make a game of the different perceptive there could be to anything or anyone. I use this method not to alter, but to help to expand the world around them. When you attempt to alter someone, your telling that person their not enough. This is only one perception now explore 111 other ways you can encourage growth.


Talk about right and wrong and the golden rule. My parents had a Bertrand Russell book in the bookcase that I read as a teenager. I can't remember which one it was, but I know that it had a lasting effect.

he was a math person of great intellect, and maybe an atheist, but ask WartHog, he knows!!


They need to come to their own understanding of the world. I really do not care that one of my daughters has some sort of wooly, fuzzy need for a celestial being. The other one is a perfectionist. It is their understanding of the world. I lived mine. I hope they learned something.


I don't understand why you say you don't want to push anything on them. Surely their upbringing is pushing stuff on them that you believe to be wrong and harmful and it is right for you to push back? My view is that the best way is to teach them to question everything they are told. Get them to look at the downright lies in the Bible, not simply stuff they can say is meant for an ideal way iof life, but things like the magnificat, which people rarely think about.


However you decide to do it, I would definitely have some fun asking them well timed religious questions. Especially ones about the great Jesus sperm.

Pretend you don't know the answers.

For example,. Easter.

Son, I really don't understand why God had to send his only kid down to be sacrificed? Didn't he know his son was going to be horribly murdered? What kind of parent would have his kid murdered like that?

But, really ask the great questions.

Every Christmas, focus on the Jesus sperm.

In a curious and serious voice, ask your son's girlfriends/boyfriends, if god saw Lady Magdalena's vagina when he put the Jesus sperm in her?

The Jesus sperm sounds funny, it will stick with them and challenge their respect for the idiot, Jesus Christ.

Carry on a bunch of immaculate conception questions at Christmas.


Wouldn't it been horrible for a young virgin to birth a full sized Jesus Christ baby? Why would god do something so horrible to a innocent virgin? Couldn't he have just given her a full grown Jesus sperm baby?

Ask their girlfriends right in front of them why religion oppresses women so much? Why does god hate women?

Boys love their Mama's. You have a natural advantage. Just show them you love them unconditionally and they will always come back to you. Fear of death may hold their grip to religion. It may happen, but it isn't the end of the world and you will have them questioning everything because of your serious, yet funny, questions.

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