Socialization

Moral development is also fostered by the adult control and communication of cultural values, beliefs, and ethics. Less obvious types of support, such as role modeling, may also foster children's moral development. Active reflection, however, is more likely to lead to moral action than merely accepting social conventions and laws, so adult and peer discussion are necessary to foster moral development.

Political, academic, and social influences have encouraged schools to augment parent and peer influence. For example, Kohlberg was aware of increased school violence, and he believed that large schools fostered detachment and poor communication between staff and students. He also had observed high levels of moral development in Israeli kibbutzim, so he created Just Community high schools in which student-faculty groups developed their own rules of conduct through discussion, reason, and argument about fairness. Violations of the rules were subject to the group's criticism and discipline. Kohlberg asserted that moral development would occur when students shared in the responsibility of creating a moral environment. In fact, within these schools, the students' complex moral reasoning increased while antisocial behavior declined. The content of the moral issues addressed, however, was not the same from school to school and increased moral behavior did not extend beyond the school environment.

Providing children with opportunities to question their own moral reasoning and behavior will foster moral development, but discussing the intentions, perspectives, false beliefs, and judgments of characters within a moral dilemma may also foster moral development. When promoting moral and prosocial behavior, parents, teachers, and other important adults should employ activities suitable for the child's age. One study suggested that moral dilemmas should concern children doing familiar things in familiar settings so that moral issues are more easily understood. Many teachers recognize this need for age appropriate curricula; differences in age appropriateness, however, vary between cultures. Therefore, not only should maturational contexts be considered when creating moral development curricula, but so should experiential, cultural, and economic contexts.

The benefits of incorporating moral development in school curricula may extend beyond decreased antisocial and immoral behavior. Research suggests that it may also help children develop a theory of mind and enhance their social and academic success. Therefore, in an effort to prepare children for socially acceptable community involvement, schools should continue to develop and use appropriate curricula, and researchers should continue to explore the realms of moral development.

See also: KOHLBERG, LAWRENCE; STAGES OF DEVELOPMENT; THEORY OF MIND

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