Moral dilemma questions can help young people wrestle with challenging scenarios and fine-tune their beliefs and values. Morality is defined as the principles concerning the distinction between right and wrong or good and bad behavior (Oxford Dictionary).
What makes each question below a dilemma is an individual’s definition of right and wrong or good and bad. Pondering what to do in various situations can be a positive exercise that prepares students for worst- and best-case scenarios.
First, let’s explore examples of moral dilemma questions. Then we’ll look at specific scenarios and end with ethical dilemma questions kids might encounter.
Moral Dilemma Questions for Teens
A moral dilemma is a conflict in which a person must choose between two or more actions. There are moral reasons for each choice. No matter which choice you make, someone will suffer or something bad will happen. Here are 11 examples:
1. The Unfaithful Friend
You go out for dinner at a new restaurant you haven’t frequented before. It’s in a part of town you rarely visit. You’re shocked to see a friend’s spouse having dinner with a very young, attractive person. From the way they’re behaving, it’s obvious they’re more than friends. The couple finish their meal and leave without seeing you. They behave very affectionately on the way out the door. Moral dilemma questions:
- Tell your friend, knowing they probably won’t believe you and it may ruin your friendship?
- Say nothing about seeing the couple as it’s none of your business; they may even have an open relationship?
2. A Difficult Choice
You and your family decide to spend a weekend at an isolated beach cabin. Your teenage daughter often gets bored on your getaways, so you take your niece along. As soon as you arrive, a storm is looming and the water looks rough. You tell the girls they can get ready to swim, but to come back and help unload the car. They’re so excited they don’t pay attention to the last part and run to the beach to swim.
You don’t realize they’ve done so until you hear your daughter scream. You realize they’re both caught in a strong current and might be swept out to sea. You’re a good swimmer and know you can save one of them. You have a difficult choice to make. Moral dilemma questions:
- Save your niece first because she’s a poor swimmer and won’t be able to last as long as your daughter?
- Save your daughter first, because, though she’s a strong swimmer and may be able to last long enough for you to come back after saving your niece, you can’t stand the idea of losing her?
3. An Office Theft
You’re in charge of the petty cash at the office. However, a co-worker is responsible for making a weekly trip to the bank to make the business deposit and obtain petty cash for the following week. In a conversation, your mutual supervisor asks if the increase in the petty cash amount was enough. You, however, haven’t seen any additional money. You realize your co-worker has been pocketing the additional money. Moral dilemma questions:
- Tell your supervisor you’ve neither asked for nor received any additional petty cash and that you suspect your co-worker is pocketing the money?
- Tell your co-worker your suspicions and give them a chance to pay the money back?
- Say nothing and just wait to see what happens?
4. Midnight Death
You’ve worked years to be successful in your father’s business. You felt obligated to take over as he worked his whole life to build the family business. However, the large businesses in town have seriously cut into profits. For several years, you and your family have just managed to scrape by.
Your father’s health has declined and he’s been hospitalized. He has a substantial life insurance policy that expires at midnight. If he dies before midnight, you’ll inherit enough money to pursue a career you’ve always dreamed of and provide adequately for your family. Moral dilemma questions:
- Pinch the oxygen line making it possible for your dad to die or smother him with a pillow?
- Tell your dad the problem and let him suggest a solution and go by what he says?
- Do nothing as you cannot imagine living with yourself if you terminate your dad’s life?
5. Get Rich
Your friend offers you an opportunity to make a great deal of money very quickly. He has arranged to set up an off-shore account for your profits. Although he won’t tell you exactly how he’s making this money, you get the impression it isn’t exactly legal. He wants an investment of only $500 and promises you’ll have enough from your minimal investment that you’ll never need to work again. Moral dilemma questions:
- Give him the $500, deciding if you don’t know how he’s making it, you’re in the clear?
- Demand to know the details before you get involved?
- Decide you want no part of this deal, as you trust your instinct that the offer is shady and you might even get in legal trouble?
6. Telling a Secret
Your friend tells you that they committed a crime. They explain they’re having trouble sleeping at night and feel you’re the only one they can trust with their confession. A few days later, you read that someone is under arrest for your friend’s crime. Moral dilemma questions:
- Go to the police and tell them what you know?
- Encourage your friend to confess and warn him if he does not do so, you will tell?
- Say nothing because you will not betray a friend’s confidence?