Developmental stages and morality
To what extent do children understand right from wrong?
What we have learnt about children’s moral understanding from psychological research? Research carried out by the late Jean Piaget and Lawrence Kohlberg emphasised the limitations of children’s moral judgement. They showed that children only develop something resembling adult-like moral understanding later in childhood and that children’s understanding of right and wrong becomes more sophisticated as a result of social engagement. Piaget was influenced by Rousseau’s insights in Emile.
While adults play an important role in teaching children right from wrong, much of children’s social, emotional and moral development comes from interacting with their peers. What is the relationship between autonomy, agency and moral understanding? What does children’s limited moral understanding mean for discipline policies, including anti-bullying policies, in schools? To what extent should children be punished for behaviour that is ‘wrong’, when they don’t fully understand why what they did was wrong?
co-founder and director, spiked; associate lecturer, Open University and lecturer at the US study abroad centre, CAPA; author, Reclaiming Childhood: Freedom and Play in an Age of Fear and Just Another Ape?
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