As all parents know, children often want to do exactly what their parents don't want them to do. In three areas that children often consider parts of their personal domain -- clothing, friendship, and leisure activities -- having a degree of choice over decisions is important for children's sense of identity and mental health. A new study that considered connections between control over issues within children's personal domain, identity, and emotional well-being has found that children make important distinctions between different kinds of rules.
The study was carried out by researchers at the University of California, Davis, the University of Illinois, Chicago, and Brock University in Ontario, Canada. It is published in the March/April 2010 issue of the journal Child Development.
The researchers looked at the beliefs of 60 4- to 7-year-olds about how child characters in role-playing situations would act and feel when a parent forbids them from engaging in a desired activity. At times, the parent's rule intruded on the child's personal domain (as in, you shouldn't play with a particular friend, take part in a certain activity, or wear certain clothes), while in others, the parent's rule fell within the moral domain (as in, you shouldn't hit or steal).
From ages 4 to 7, children's predictions that the characters would comply with moral rules (such as prohibitions against stealing) and feel good about doing so rose significantly, suggesting that between these ages, children become increasingly aware of the limits to legitimate disobedience. In stark contrast, children of all ages predicted that the characters would frequently break parents' rules when those rules intruded on the personal domain and that this disobedience would feel good, particularly when the desired activities were described as essential to the character's sense of identity.
"The findings suggest that children make important distinctions between different kinds of rules when reasoning about decisions and emotions," notes Kristin Hansen Lagattuta, associate professor of psychology and the Center for Mind and Brain at the University of California, Davis, who led the study. Previous research has shown that "although the particulars of what gets defined as the personal domain can vary across cultural settings, the establishment of a zone of personal choice and privacy appears to be culturally universal," she adds.
"These results have practical implications for parents and educators," Lagattuta suggests. "Foremost, they argue for balance in promoting morality in young children -- not only restricting actions that they shouldn't do, but helping them identify situations where they can assert personal control."
Materials provided by Society for Research in Child Development. Note: Content may be edited for style and length.
- Kristin Hansen Lagattuta, Larry Nucci, Sandra Leanne Bosacki. Bridging Theory of Mind and the Personal Domain: Children's Reasoning About Resistance to Parental Control (p 616-635). Child Development, 2010; 81 (2): 616 DOI: 10.1111/j.1467-8624.2009.01419.x
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Society for Research in Child Development. "When will children disobey parents? It depends on the rule." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 26 March 2010. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/03/100325091419.htm>.
Society for Research in Child Development. (2010, March 26). When will children disobey parents? It depends on the rule. ScienceDaily. Retrieved March 14, 2018 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/03/100325091419.htm
Society for Research in Child Development. "When will children disobey parents? It depends on the rule." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/03/100325091419.htm (accessed March 14, 2018).
It is our duty to obey our parents, that is, to do always what they tell us to do. All that we have is given to us by our parents food, clothing and education.
They tend us when we are too young to do anything for ourselves. They watch over us in times of sickness, provide for our amusement, teach us the principles of their religion, and guard us from evil influences.
Obedience is a very simple way of showing gratitude for these benefits. It is a way that is well within the reach of the young infant as well as the full-grown son.
Parents are not only the providers of benefits, but are the guides of their children in all the relations of life. There may be cases where a father and a mother prove themselves unworthy of their children’s regard; but it is usually found that parents are as solicitous for their children’s welfare as their own.
Being adults and having experience of the world, they are in a position to form better judgments than their children. Therefore not only is it the duty of a child to obey his parents, but in doing so he is consulting his best interests.
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Just as the boy who would learn to eat must attend to the instructions of his teacher, so those who wish to grow up into honest and useful men must follow the dictates of their parents. The captain, when entering a strange port trusts to the pilot to guide his ship safely. Our parents are our pilots.
We sail in strange waters, and our safety depends on submission to the directions of those who are more experienced. We are not always well-advised in our choice of companions.
When the time comes for us to decide what trade or profession we are to follow, when misunderstanding and perplexities arise, be done; and it is our duty to obey implicitly, for love and experience combine to give value to their advice.
Examples of disobedient sons and daughters are but too common in this world, and very regrettable have often been the results of this disobedience. In former times, among the Romans, it was considered a serious crime, and the father might, if he was so minded, punish it by death.
One of the ten commandments given by God to the Jews was: “Honour thy father and thy mother, that thy days may be long in the land which the Lord thy God gives thee.”
Disobedience is base ingratitude, and one of the greatest cruelties a child can inflict upon a parent who has toiled for years for his sake, and lavished upon him all his affections, regardless of self.
It is a crime which brings its own punishment. How bitter must be the remorse of one who, standing by the deathbed of a parent, remembers all that parent’s love and constant unselfishness, which have been repaid by disregard for his wishes and outspoken contempt for his orders!