Kids everywhere draw similar moral lessons from life

Universal concerns, not cultural values, may shape kids’ developing notions of right and wrong, writes Bruce Bowers in Science News:

“It’s remarkable how little cultural variation we have found in developmental patterns of moral reasoning,” says [Charles] Helwig [of the University of Toronto]….

Helwig and like-minded researchers don’t assume that kids’ universal responses spring from a biologically innate moral-reasoning capacity. Instead, they say, children gradually devise ways of evaluating core family relationships in different situations. Kids judge the fairness and effectiveness of their parents’ approaches to punishing misbehavior, for example. These kinds of relationship issues are much the same across all cultures, from Helwig’s perspective.

Children everywhere stew in the same pot of family conflict, with different cultural seasonings added for flavor, in Helwig’s view. When parents restrict behaviors that children regard as personal choices, such as what clothes to wear or which friends to hang out with, disputes inevitably arise. Parental restrictions on behavior that kids view as morally wrong or as a violation of conventional social rules are often accepted, even if grudgingly.

During the teen years, kids in Asian and Western cultures alike gravitate toward a broader class of moral imperatives, including rights to privacy, education and freedom of speech, Helwig and colleagues find in another new study published in the August Social Development. Adolescents also appeal to democratic notions, such as majority rule, to justify a preference for representative forms of government — even if they live in a communist or authoritarian society.

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