NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Nurturing Morality in Children

March 20, 2003

For one reason or another, our society appears to be paying greater attention to character development and developing moral scruples -- particularly in children. Perhaps that stems from reports of shootings and other acts of violence in schools. Or it could be the result of the recent rash of corporate scandals.

Over the last few years, schools in 48 states have introduced character education programs, and the Department of Education has promoted those efforts by giving $27 million in character education grants since 1995.

  • Many of the programs draw on some recent research showing that although all children are born with the capacity to be moral, it needs to be nurtured by parents, schools and the community.
  • Without a firm sense of right and wrong, some experts say, children tend to become cynical, alienated and selfish.
  • Opinions are split over the question of whether today's children and adults are more or less moral than previous generations.

Nor is there much research showing just what techniques work to nurture morality in children. But the small number of studies that have been done indicate that discussions that get students to work through moral quandaries and community service activities have measurable results.

Experts believe that it is not until age 2 when children begin to understand the meaning of right and wrong. The next leap in moral understanding occurs in early adolescence, when young people begin to develop their moral philosophies.

Source: Susan Gilbert, "Scientists Explore the Molding of Children's Morals," New York Times, March 18, 2003.  


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