On the 7th of March 2013, I visited the Kogarah Court House for two hours. During this time period, I became particularly aware of the court’s role, purpose and place within the Australian legal hierarchy of courts rules and boundaries
, set by adults and peers alike, that the children often encounter when attempting to frame their interactions in an acceptable way. To simply walk up to a group of children and ask them to play in a friendly manner represents only a miniscule factor of social development. As a child interacts, he or she must learn to interpret a wide variety of complex cues and requirements. Problems arise when separate requirements conflict with one another or with the child’s own perceived needs and, at times, it is difficult for the child to understand that these requirements even exist!
The internalization of formal rules is one facet of social development to which adults assign great significance. Indeed, noncompliance is the “most frequent reason for psychiatric referral of young children” (Schaffer, 1999, p. 250). Self-control is important, of course. “Adults play a crucial part in helping children to achieve control over their own behavior; it is only through initial dependence on others that a child can develop autonomy” (Schaffer, 1999, p. 249). What many adults tend to overlook, however, is that children are sometimes trying to operate within several different “realities,” each of which sets forth an entirely different set of rules. For example, Turiel (cited in Schaffer, 1996, p. 268) notes that the requirements set forth by the family differ significantly from the requirements set forth in the “outside world.” Similarly, the objectives of the adults on the playground are very different from the objectives of one’s cohorts, 2
and the child must find a way to interact that satisfies the rules delineated by both groups if he is to function successfully. Finally, the child must also learn the appropriate ways to meet his or her own needs. Thus, the process of moral development is far more complex than memorizing simple phrases such as “do this” and “don’t do that.”
Several attempts have been made to construct a model that tracks the moral development of children. In this paper, I have found the work of Piaget, and Kohlberg to be the most useful references to explain the observations I made on Woodward’s playground. In some way, each of their theories assumes that moral development follows a pattern in which the child progresses from fulfilling the needs of the self to fulfilling the needs of the whole. It is important to note, however, that, like any form of development, the internalization of rules does not occur in a rigid, homogeneous pattern. I witnessed displays of egocentrism in children who, according to Piaget, should have moved well into the third stage of moral development by then. The concept of “soft assembly” (Thelen, 1994, p. 30) in the dynamic systems perspective provides a much better format for the progression of moral development. According to the dynamic systems perspective, there is no predetermined outcome. Rather, certain innate possibilities, such as the potential for various types of moral reasoning, that lay within the child are assembled in a malleable configuration when the environment for such growth is provided. A pattern of behavior emerges as the self-organizaition continues, becoming more and more stable over time (Thelen, 1994, pp. 30-31). In the example of moral reasoning, the child, recalling memories from each stage in his or her life, attempts to create a sensible “pattern” from these experiences. It is this pattern that leads to the internalization of a belief system, the belief that “this” is the way things “ought to be,” and therefore, this is what I “should” do in this situation. Everyone has a unique life experience. Therefore, it makes sense that some children may have had more opportunity than others to...