Moral Development

As a father to two young children, and having a personal passion for social psychology, I find the concept of morality (or social integration) fascinating.  Parallel to this, I find that the vocational schools live nearly entirely on this aspect.  Teachers, doctors, lawyers, religion – they all provide a particular value or input into society’s definition of morality.

There’s a simple test to show that morality, for a very long time, is defined by outside sources and not from the inside.  Ask a child if it’s OK to steal a loaf of bread to feed a hungry family and the majority will say no.  Same question to teenagers will have a split answer.  Young adults tend to say OK.  Older adults are going to be all over the place because their moral development may or may not have progressed.  The answer itself isn’t important so must as the justification.  Your personal experience and knowledge will directly impact that answer.

According to Kohlber’s stages of moral development, there are 6 stages that people may pass through.  The first two are focused on the individual and can be seen as being selfish.  We would typically associate this behavior with a child or youth trying to find their place in society. I do know a lot of adults that remain here.  This typically reflects the inability to show respect or compassion for others – a typical narcissistic behavior.

The next two are where conformity to the masses enters the picture and found in teens and many adults.  Society has expectations of performance and people measure themselves to it.  This is the main reason reality TV is so popular, since it gives people the feeling of moral superiority.  This is where politics and laws operate as they work at a fundamental level for society.  If effect, society is telling you what is or is not acceptable.  The majority of adults live in this space.

The final two are based on individual principles and the capability of finding individuality in society.  Rules change based on evolving needs – the core principle of democracy.  The highest form is more akin to empathy/compassion in understanding the other’s position.  Preventative measures, rehabilitation are key concepts where the previous tier focuses more on punishment.  I know of very few people that are at this level and by definition, it should be a small amount.

It’s an interesting challenge for a parent to guide a child along this path, especially if they never really exceeds the self-interest level.  I know I had to look outside my home to find progress.  I realize that I only have so much time with my kids and that the two groups of people my children will see more – their friends and their teachers – will need to be aligned with our goals.  The former I have some control over currently and hopefully we can provide enough guidance that when they get older, they pick “quality” friends.  The teacher portion though, that’s out of my control unless I change schools.  It does mean however, that I need to have a social contract with each teacher, so that we can all work jointly to provide not only an academic learning experience but also a social and moral one as well.

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