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Moral Development

Many of you, whether you are parents or contemplating having children, may be worried about what the morals or values you want to teach your children. There are different psychologists who have theorised about the moral development of children. One of the most prominent theories was put forward by Mark Kohlberg (1963). He believed that morality is learned throughout childhood and adolescence in a set of stages.

Kohlberg’s research led him to identify six qualitatively different stages of development that he divides into 3 levels (each level has 2 stages). The first level is called the pre-conventional level. In its first stage the child’s moral choices are determined by whether or not they will be punished. He or she has no concept of right and wrong. For example, Tarek will not steal the chocolate because if mum catches him she will shout at him. Unlike other stage theories, Kohlberg does not determine the appropriate age for each stage because he believed it depends on the person and the circumstances in which he/she is brought up. Some people can remain in this stage throughout their lives such as thieves or delinquents. The next stage is different, the child’s actions are determined by what brings rewards and what people around them want. For example Muna won’t hit her brother because it will make her mum angry and then she won’t taker her to the movie.

If development continues normally then the child will move into the second level: conventional morality. In its first stage the person’s moral behaviour is dictated by whatever helps and pleases others and what they approve of. The aim of the individual is to be and be seen as a good person. For example Noha will feel good about herself for picking up the rubbish in the street and she knows people will consider her a good person. In stage four ‘goodness’ is determined by social rules and order. This is manifested in the person’s respect for authority, maintenance of social order and doing one’s duty. The law is right and society knows best.

The third level is one in which authority can be questioned and referred to it as the post-conventional level. In the fifths stage the person recognises that laws are man made and can be changed. He/she still believes that laws and rules should be respected because they protect the individual as well as the society, however if these laws become restrictive or destructive they can be superceded.

Kohlberg believed that most people did not go beyond this stage. Only a few people progress to the sixth and final stage and he gave as examples people like Mahatma Ghandi and Mother Theresa. These people become the ultimate judges of what is moral and their conscience is ruled by certain universal morals. They believe that society’s rules are arbitrary and that they can be broken if they conflict with universal moral principles.

Understanding these rules may help you to understand the thinking process behind your children’s actions so that you can discipline them more effectively. You may also try to help your children understand and progress to the next level but bear in mind that it has to be at an appropriate time so that your child can absorb and integrate the information.

Photo by Nubia Navarro (nubikini) from Pexels

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