How Parents Communicate Right and Wrong: A Study of Memorable Moral Messages Recalled by Emerging Adults

Vincent Waldron, Dayna Kloeber, Carmen Goman, Nicole Piemonte, Joshua Danaher

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

11 Scopus citations


The family communication process through which emerging adults form their moral outlook is examined through the lenses of Negotiated Morality Theory and Vygotskian Developmental Theory. Analyses were performed on the context, content, and type of 470 memorable messages reported by 303 emerging adults. Results indicated that messages were spontaneously delivered rather than planned, communicated at home, and received at around 16 years of age. Messages most often concerned relational ethics, self-honoring, honesty/fraudulence, careless/harmful acts, and personal qualities. Eleven distinct forms of communication were used by parents, including forecasting the future, empathy-enhancing, virtue-prioritizing, commanding, and identity-making. As expected, the nature of the messages varied by the gender of the parent and the age of the child at the time of the message. Parental messages appear to be influential as young adults negotiate cultural, religious, and peer sources of morality. Implications for parents and moral educators are explored.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)374-397
Number of pages24
JournalJournal of Family Communication
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - Oct 2 2014


ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Communication
  • Social Psychology

Cite this