|Thinking About Being Ethical
||Behavior is guided by a moral code or set of principles. This code evolves from
determining what is right and what is wrong.
|She finds a ten-dollar bill in the parking lot outside the grocery store and
takes it inside to the clerk to be returned to its rightful owner. When asked to help
tidy her grandmother's home, she refrains from snooping into the drawers, cupboards,
boxes, and personal papers lying around.
|She needs to have a clear understanding of the moral code or set of principles.
She has to be able to apply these principles to everyday situations. To do so, she needs
to be aware of the situation, know various ways to respond, and be able to assess which
responses (behavior) are right based on the moral code.
|Insights about the
|Parents need to define the moral code or set of principles that constitutes
ethical behavior for them. In the United States, ethical behavior is often assumed to
be based on the effects of one's behavior on other people. Parents who want their child
to be ethical must teach her the moral code that exemplifies the behavior they think is
A child who is to grow up living according to a moral code must understand
that behavior has consequences.
Teaching or Preserving Being Ethical
||Babies cannot comprehend an abstract concept such as a code of behavior.
At this stage, they experience what is good behavior, their parents' love and nurturing.
They experience consequences of their actions. For example, if you lose your balance
while trying to sit or stand up, you fall over. Most toddlers twist around so that they
fall on their bottoms, something their experience tells them is less painful.
All their learning is based on experience.
||A child this age is just beginning to learn the "right" way to behave.
Much of this learning comes from social situations. Society in the United States has
some agreements about what is right, such as sharing, settling disagreements, and being
concerned for others. Through day to day experience, a child learns a code of ethical
behavior for social situations. She is not learning abstract principles at this point.
She is learning concrete ways of behaving and her learning must be guided by adults.
||When a child reaches school age (6 or 7 years), she begins to understand
abstract rules or codes of behavior. At this age she will look at the code very rigidly:
a behavior is either right or wrong. She will experiment living by the code. She will
encounter other codes of behavior that are different from what she is taught at home.
These differences will push her to examine different codes, a process that reaches
complex abstract levels during the teenage years.
Teenagers continuously question the code of ethics by which they have been raised and
frequently will try out some of the beliefs of other ethical codes they see.
Finally, in adulthood, most people have evolved the code of behavior by which they
Influences on Learning to be Ethical
||A child's need to feel loved and accepted provides strong motivation for her
to follow the code of behavior her parents teach.
||A child who is impulsive often finds it difficult to live by a code consistently.
She tends to act before she thinks.
||A child who learns by doing needs many experiences that involve ethical behavior
and plenty of opportunities to discuss her experiences.
Reflections about Being Ethical
|Influence of other
Children and adults both have difficulty being honest when they have broken a
moral code. For a child, the strain of knowing she will be punished for her behavior if
she tells the truth about it leads her to lie, which may also be against the code.
If parents can focus on other ways she might have behaved instead of dwelling on her
misbehavior, she will learn more acceptable behavior, with less fear of punishment
and less inclination to lie.
Any particular value that speaks broadly to how life is best lived can provide
the moral code needed to live life in an ethical manner. Caring is such a value.
|A common problem in our culture is to speak of ethical behavior, assuming that
everyone is agreement about the kind of behavior expected. To be effective in teaching
children a set of principles to follow, parents must identify the moral code on which
they base their own ethical behavior.