Values and attitudes

Central to young people’s development is the need to form a clear sense of their values and attitudes. Values provide a foundation for exercising judgment, particularly when moral and ethical issues arise. This is particularly important in contemporary society, because young people are increasingly expected to take personal responsibility for their choices and actions.

Aronowitz (2005) argues that “…value clarification and thinking beyond the present help reduce risk behaviours” (p207). Similarly, White and Wyn (2008) believe that young people’s social and emotional well-being is advanced by the development of an identity based on what is valued and held to be good, as well as how they feel about their lives.

Together with commitment to learning, social competence and positive identity, the Search Institute (based in the United States) identifies positive values as a key developmental asset. Six values are identified as assets (Benson, 2007).

  • Caring or placing high value on helping others
  • A commitment to equality and social justice
  • Integrity, which is expressed through acting on convictions and standing up for beliefs
  • Honesty, denoting a preparedness to tell the truth even when it is not easy
  • Responsibility
  • Restraint.

Valuing of social diversity and cultural sensitivity has also been identified as developmental strengths (Resiliency Canada, 2000; cited in Ungar, 2011).

Australian research demonstrates how attitudes are implicated in young people’s choices to either use or refrain from using substances (Clark, Scott & Cook 2003). Other large-scale studies at the population level confirm that favourable attitudes towards substance use and antisocial behaviour held by young people and endorsed within the family are risk factors for poor development outcomes, including substance use problems (Gregg, Toumbourou, Bond, Thomas & Patton, 2000; Hawkins, Catalano & Miller, 1992).