Stages Of A Child's Moral Development: Morality Of Constraint, Morality Of Cooperation, Identity Diffusion

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Morality of constraint

Morality of constraint refers to a pre-adolescent inclination to follow the orders of their parents and superior without questioning the significance, reasoning or consequence thereof. This is the first stage of moral development and children believe that morals are absolute/ “the ultimate”.

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For example:

Parents often tell their children that if they are naughty they won’t receive any gifts at Christmas time. The rationale behind how this is not true is quite clear to adults, but most children will wholeheartedly be on their best behaviour if this notion is presented to them.

Morality of cooperation

According to Jean Piaget at the stage of 10 years and older children are able to recognize that in order to live in a cooperative society people must work together to decide what is acceptable, and what is not. At this stage children are able to see from others point of view and act with intention. In other words, moral rules can be changed if they are not appropriate to the occasion if everyone involved is in agreement.

For example:

The child accepts punishment to clarify right from wrong in order to be better behaved in the future and does not confuse natural misfortune for punishment. A child will accept a “time-out” for naughty behaviour and rectify their behaviour, and also view the bond as repaired.

Identity diffusion

Identity diffusion forms part of Erik Erikson’s proposed fifth stage of personality development. Identity diffusion occurs when adolescents are not actively seeking, or are incapable of realising their identity, personality traits and roles. Adolescent experiencing identity diffusion may also not be able to make decision about themselves or may have little opportunity for experimentation with social roles.

The uncertainty that goes hand in hand with identity diffusion may cause adolescents to be anxious, apathetic and hostile towards rules or values.

Parents are sometimes also responsible for identity diffusion in adolescents, by setting unrealistically high standards for their children or trying to determine and make choices about their children’s careers and futures for them they are not giving their children the opportunity to find their own identity. This may result in rebellious behaviour.

Some adolescents may not have any hobbies that they enjoy and are not interested in taking on such activities or some may not have any goals for the future or may not really care about their future during their adolescent years, these are examples of adolescents who have not made any choices to solidify their identities and are said to be experiencing identity diffusion.


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