Family and Faith

Family Matters: How Our Children Judge Between Right and Wrong

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Growing up as a teenager in the 70’s, I would often see children playing along the side of the streets. Smiling and laughing trouserless five year olds would be strutting along, running, and having fun, while seemingly unmindful of the vehicular traffic on their “playground.” Their mothers, like eagles, vigilantly watching them from a distance.

A misstep towards the center of the road with an approaching vehicle often triggers a shrill scream from the mother of the child followed by a litany of curses, coupled with a spanking on the child’s naked butt. “Walang hiya ka! Hindi mo ba alam na delikado diyan?”

Years after, at a seminar on adolescent development that I was facilitating, a teen wrote on a piece of paper during the open forum: “Kayo po ba, alam niyo ang tama at mali?” Finally, just now, while writing this article in a coffee shop, a boy playing around the coffee tables while his mother was chatting with a friend, was typically touching surfaces and things. The mother on the other hand kept on holding him back with a “NO!”

One of the dimensions of parenting that makes parents feel fulfilled is security. Part of the sense of security is to have the confidence that our children are able to differentiate right from wrong, good from bad, and high-risk from low-risk. Some parents presume that these were learned from them as parents; others presume that these are taught in schools; while others presume that these are innate and therefore second nature to the child.

More importantly, as a follow through to the previous article, “Raising Our Kids to Thrive in a World Class Economy,” a “world class” economy allows no room for grey areas (excuses). One is either the best or not. How we judge between what is right or wrong, good or bad prepares us to make judgments whether it is acceptable or not.

Just how do our children differentiate between right and wrong, good or bad, and safe or not safe?

In 1932, Swiss developmental psychologist Jean Piaget presented the results of his experiment regarding the moral development of children. The participants in his study were Swiss children, broken down to groups with ages 7 to 8, 9 to 10, and 11to 12 years old. The study investigated the participants’ choice with consequences (punishment) or motives as their basis for moral judgment. Situations were presented as intentional or accidental. Moral judgment as far as this study was concerned was based on cognitive development.

Piaget reports that the children with age ranging from 7 to 8 regarded punishment as a necessary consequence of misbehavior and wrong doing. Punishment as far as this age group is concerned must be directly proportional to the damage or injury done. Slightly older children with ages ranging from 9 to 10 preferred to ask whether the situation was an accident or intentional.

Punishment is then meted out in terms of the offender’s motives and no longer solely in terms of the degree of damage or injury. The 11 to 12 age group was more interested in the details of the situation and is prepared to forgive regardless of the degree of damage or injury.

Leila C. Ilan and Allen L. Tan in 1969, and Ma. Carmen Jimenez in 1976 duplicated the Piaget experiment on Filipino children. Ilan’s and Tan’s population consisted of urban and rural participants, while Jimenez studied only the urban children.

The 1969 experiment contradicted Piaget’s results and indicated that the Filipino is different from their Swiss counterpart. Generally, the Filipino, regardless of age, demanded punishment WHEN the incident was intentional. In other words, for the Filipino child, “Bakit, papaano nangyari?” seems to be more important than “anong nangyari?”

Also, the Filipino child seemed to be more forgiving if no one was injured because of the incident. The 1976 study yielded similar results. Both 1969 and 1976 studies reported that females preferred punishment more than the males in the experiment. The 1976 study also revealed that group punishment was preferred over individual punishment.

Allow me to offer a simple traffic violation of beating a red light as an example to illustrate the implication of the studies on our general behavior and how we may be teaching our children on how to make value judgments.

Incident: Beating a red light.

Result: Hailed by traffic enforcer.

Scenario 1. “Tsip, bakit ako lang? Sumunod lang ako doon sa nauna sa akin ah!” Here, the offender refuses to acknowledge individual responsibility .He/ she points out group misbehavior and therefore invokes group responsibility. If group punishment is not meted out, punishment is perceived as unjust.

Scenario 2: “Bosing, pasensiya na, nagmamadali lang ako, late na kasi ako sa appointment…..” is the offered excuse while at the same time scratching the head with sheepish grin. If punishment is meted out, the traffic officer is perceived as “ hindi makatao; walang pag-intindi”.

Scenario 3: “Pasensiya na bosing, hindi ko lang napansin….” Of course this is the weakest excuse, but then again, a bombardment of profuse apology usually is not ignored.

To be world class speaks of outcomes in terms of services, products, and systems. Outcomes do not leave room for grey areas (excuses). It is perhaps that living life in the Philippines for Filipinos is indeed difficult and therefore we usually invoke understanding and forgiveness from others.

Again, a world class attitude starts with families. Articulation of ideas and concerns with modesty ( a.k.a. hiya) and sensitivity (a.k.a. kapwa) may help clarify and instill upon our family members a firm understanding of what areas are negotiable and what are not.

• Roderick Marfil, RGC, is a licensed guidance couselor and practicing family therapist. If you’d like to consult him, he is available on Thursdays, by appointment only, at the Ilaw Center, Miriam College in Quezon City. Contact him through (0939) 211-0403; or through landline 520-5400 loc. 1134.
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