Learning Right From Wrong
Each generation believes they are facing new challenges in raising responsible children. As we start the 21st century, the world is a different place than it was even ten years ago and is sure to continue to change. With change come both challenges and opportunities. No challenge is more important than raising our children to become adults with sound values and a sense of responsibility to themselves, their families, and their community. In this issue of the NYU Child Study Center Letter, we review the developmental processes-the moral and cognitive reasoning along with conscience and empathy- which enable children to distinguish right from wrong. Knowledge of what's typical at different ages helps adults understand the meaning of children's decisions in situations which present moral dilemmas. We also discuss how parenting styles and attitudes affect their children's values. According to research, parents who are warm and communicative with their children, starting at an early age, while still maintaining control in the form of limits, raise children who are more self-respecting, more socially competent, and deal more effectively with problems. As children grow, the parents who are open to discussions of tough issues such as aggression, violence, sexual activity, and substance abuse let their children know that they care about them and exert a powerful influence in their lives. The final section of this CSC Letter presents some strategies to help parents prepare their children to follow a steady path in changing times. -- HSK/AG
Aretha, age 4, pocketed a candy bar that appealed to her when she was in a store with her mother.
Sidney, age 10, preparing for a math test, wrote some formulas on his hand to refer to.
Alex, age 15, was late in handing in a science paper, so he found some information on the internet and submitted it as his own.
How do children come to know the rules of their family and their community and learn what's fair, just and right? The process starts at an early age, and several strands of development are intertwined- children need to comprehend what's expected of them, to want approval and to care about others. It's a matter of both mind and emotions. Children gradually develop the cognitive and emotional capacities that form the basis of knowing and feeling what's right and what's wrong and then acting in accordance with that knowledge. And they need caring adults to help them. Taking a candy bar, cheating on a test, and using someone else's ideas have different meanings at different ages. The 4-year-old who takes a candy bar doesn't yet understand the idea of private property; the 10-year-old who cheats on a test knows he shouldn't do it, but thinks it's okay because others do it; the 15-year-old, however, when faced with ambiguous moral choices, is intellectually aware of the ethical issues involved in submitting someone else's work as his own.
Reprinted with the permission of the NYU Child Study Center. © NYU Child Study Center.
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