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Moral Development: Meaning and Theories
How do you first start to understand the difference between right and wrong? How do these ideas change as you grow? Most people have rigid ideas of right and wrong when they are children. For instance, children believe it when they are told lying is wrong. However, growing up, these ideas inherently change. Lying is all right if it is done to protect oneself from harm or if the truth hurts someone. Our ideas about rights and wrongs, justice and injustice, etc., evolve as we age. These are covered under one's moral development.
What is Moral Development?
Morality refers to a certain code of conduct one has established for oneself. Children's moral reasoning, attitudes toward moral failings, and behavior when confronted with moral dilemmas all fall under the category of moral development. Research on moral development attempts to answer the following questions: How do humans develop morality, and what factors affect this development?
Theories of Moral Development
Various approaches have been used to study moral development; these include−
In his groundbreaking works, Freud adopted this strategy. It views morality as simply adhering to cultural expectations or conventions through internalization. Freud believed that the formation of the super-ego, which takes place in the kid as a result of the internalization of moral imperatives derived from standards of adults, especially the parents, is what causes the child to acquire morality. These moral requirements serve as an ego ideal or "conscience," acting to restrain the ID's urges.
The youngster is prevented from breaking social rules by the conscience or super-ego that is so formed. A child's super-ego will grow stronger the more emotionally attached they are to their parents since they will not behave in ways that would make them lose their regard. Children who do not have strong bonds with their parents or experience abuse or neglect from them exhibit animosity toward others. Such youngsters have very frail consciences or super-egos.
The super-ego sets the good standards needed by society by acting as an ego ideal. It speaks for society or the voice of the parents. Guilt emerges when the ego ideal falls short of its expectations. A child's super-ego will grow stronger the more emotionally attached they are to their parents since they will not behave in ways that would make them lose their regard. Children who do not have strong bonds with their parents or experience abuse or neglect from them exhibit animosity toward others. Such youngsters have very frail consciences or super-egos. The super-ego sets the good standards needed by society by acting as an ego ideal. It speaks for society or the voice of the parents. Guilt emerges when the ego ideal falls short of its expectations.
Damon's View of Moral Identity
Damon studied the development of the sense of fairness. The research was mainly focused on positive justice. The main question that Damon's Moral Identity view answered was how resources are divided. Damon recorded the nature of empathy in different age groups. It was highlighted that at early infancy, global empathy is present. An infant cannot distinguish between the feelings and needs of self and others. At the age of 1-2, children develop further. Rather than feeling discomfort at another's distress, children at this age feel concerned about the person.
However, they have yet to have the resources to take any action. During early childhood, children realize that their feelings are uniquely their own and that others might not necessarily feel the same way. This allows them to differentiate between the needs and feelings of self from others. This enables children to respond more appropriately to others' distress. At about the beginning of adolescence, children develop a sense of empathy for those that are disadvantaged or in unfortunate situations. Development of this empathy gives them a humanistic outlook on politics and other events.
Cognitive Developmental Theory
Arnold Gessel is one of the pioneering researchers in the West who studied moral development, and his name merits special note. Gessel contends that moral growth is a maturational process when a child gets older. However, Gessel is simply interested in moral behavior and pays no attention to moral judgment or reasoning. He asserts that there are three separate stages in the evolution of morality: (1) submission to authority, (2) uncompromising adherence to rules even in the absence of an authority figure, and (3) independent personal morality. At various ages throughout their lives, people go through these three stages. In actuality, Gessel focuses more on what than how children think.
Operant and Social Learning Theories
Bandura and Walters (1963), for instance, claim that children imitate positive behavior patterns and adopt them as a result of reward and punishment. They contend that imitation is crucial in learning good and deviant behaviors. Both laboratory and cross-cultural research have supported this claim. Instead of receiving direct instructions, children learn morals and other sorts of behavior from watching their elders.
Children learn more by copying what adults do than following elders' instructions. Children's moral behavior has been shown to benefit from reading quality literature. The impact of observational learning on children's behavior was demonstrated by Bandura (1963). Through this, it was highlighted how children learn from the exposure they get, i.e., they "imitate" the good behavior of adults around them and that of characters in shows and books. This makes it important to provide positive exposure to children.
What helps develop morality?
The following factors impact moral development−
Considering these factors, theorists have suggested some methods that aid moral development. Following are some of the methods−
Cognitive development through stimulation
Exposure to conflicting views – promotes "cognitive disequilibrium."
Relevant social experiences
Morality, or the sense of right and wrong, develops from infancy and continues to develop even in adults. One's situations and experiences greatly shape their moral ideas. Since everyone experiences life differently, one's moral views are usually personal to them and vary amongst individuals. Moral development is quite important for the development of good citizens. Good ethics/moral programs involving discussion can help students develop a good sense of morality.
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