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AUSTIN EDITION - Moral values develop in a six-step process

Q: How do I help my children grow up acting with honesty, kindness, trustworthiness, dependability and generosity?

A: Talking about values with our kids is important. Ethics is the discussion of why and when we believe specific moral standards are important. There is no better place to have those discussions than around the dinner table, in the family room or while driving in the car.

Research indicates that people's moral views develop in the same sequence.

After 20 years of study, psychologist Lawrence Kohlberg defined six basic stages of moral development.

1. First comes doing the right thing to avoid punishment by those who set rules.

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2. Second comes doing something good to receive something good in return.

3. Third comes doing good for the approval of the group to which we belong.

4. Fourth comes the willingness to accept the standards of the nation.

5. Fifth comes the willingness to listen and understand the values of others in the world and the desire to work toward consensus or agreement.

6. Sixth comes an active, personal commitment to justice, society's welfare, the equality of human rights and respect for the dignity of individual human beings. While people progress through the stages in the same sequence, not everyone progresses through all the stages.

As a family, where we put our time, energy and money greatly influences our children's moral development. What we affirm in our children's development will also have a major impact. I remember my parents' pleasure when I first chose to give a substantial portion of my earnings to my church. I remember sending a check within an hour after both my grade school sons said we simply had to help at least two children in poverty overseas. I remember not reprimanding my college freshman when he told me he had given his second winter jacket away to a fellow on the street who looked miserably cold.

Encouraging moral development is a reason many families become volunteers in their community. For instance, parents who become a Crisis Nursery Shelter Home to provide emergency care to children whose families are experiencing a financial, emotional or illness-related challenge describe the "value-added" benefit to their family. Yes, they periodically need to change their routine, but they also have an opportunity to talk as a family about their blessings, people's common needs and the unfairness of life, as well as experience practical sharing, being friendly to people they don't know and putting the golden rule into action together.

If you would like to talk about opportunities for family volunteering, call the toll-free Parent WarmLine at 1-888-584-2204/Linea de Apoyo at 877-434-9528. For free emergency child care call Crisis Nursery at 1-877-434-9599. Check out www.familiesandcommunities.org.

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