Moral development refers to the process by which children learn how to act toward others and behave in society. It involves the acquisition of concepts such as manners, empathy, guilt, shame and understanding the difference between right and wrong. Like other forms of development, morality occurs in stages throughout childhood and adolescence, and is effected by factors in your child’s environment. This can include influence by friends, teachers, family members and cultural norms.
Family members are often the most prominent in the life of a young child. For example, mothers who explain rules, punishments and why a behavior is inappropriate are more likely to foster moral reasoning and behavior in their children by teaching the proper responses to situations says Dr. Deborah Laible, a psychology professor who specializes in childhood development. Your child will likely learn the difference between right and wrong by observing your reaction to a behavior and by modeling the moral behavior exhibited by you and other family members. For example, if your child is rude to a friend or other adult and you tell him to modify his behavior and explain why, your reaction can provide incentive for him to adopt better behavior in the future.
Moral Development and Education
Teachers can also contribute to the development of morality. When your child enters school, she must learn to share, resolve conflict, follow rules outside of the home, tolerance of others and the importance of fairness. Teachers often play a significant role in the moral development of children by creating a caring environment where each child is respected and reminded to act the same toward other students, states Dr. Nel Noddings, in the Handbook of Moral Education.
Peers and Friends
During adolescence, moral development is also influenced by close friends and social groups. Peers provide additional opportunities to make decisions and introduce adolescents to new moral behaviors and consequences, states the Journal of Research on Adolescence. The development of romantic relationships and exposure to risky behavior such as drinking or smoking during this time forces adolescents to make difficult moral decisions. This, along with increased freedom, begins to shape the value system your adolescent will carry with him into adulthood.
What your child sees on TV, in video games, on the Internet and in the news can also influence the development of moral behavior. Portrayals of violence and negativity can influence immoral decisions in children such as aggression against others that can extend into later adolescence and adulthood, according Dr. Marjorie J. Hogan in the Handbook of Moral and Character Education. The acquisition of these moral behaviors is usually due to modeling the behavior of people or characters the child admires, and by learned emotional responses to what is seen in the media. Alternatively, portrayals of values and other good behavior in the media can also positively influence your child. For example, educational programs and shows portraying caring or helping characters can encourage your child to develop these qualities.