Why should I? Stage 4: for “us”

Andrew Wake Newsletter, Parenting

Stage 4: social-order maintaining orientation. Late primary onwards

  • In secondary school (corresponding with the development of abstract thinking) the child becomes aware of the importance of obeying laws and social norms to maintain a functioning group.  The motivation is not for personal gain or approval, but to uphold the obligations and duties of the group so it runs well for all members in the group…that is, for “us”.  
  • This motivation for this comes from feeling a strong sense of belonging to the group. Such a feeling is therefore important in the development of this stage of morality.  If you don’t feel you belong or have any identity in the group, then your motivation to make the group run well will be limited, and level 4 morality may be hard to attain.
  • What is right is what helps all those in the group, and is less about individual benefit and more about the group benefit.
  • So a good action is one that fulfills the values of the group and that makes the group they belong to and care about run best.

Considering and valuing others is the key moral developmental task when raising a child.  You cannot make this happen, and you cannot do it for them, but there are things you can do to support them to develop a moral approach that considers relationships and the group’s functioning. 

The answer to “Why should I?” at stage 4 moves beyond one’s own self-interest (punishment / reward), or getting other’s approval (“good girl”).  The young person at this stage is valuing their group, and because they care about their group, its benefit is their benefit.  Anything that damages the functioning and trust of the group is seen as immoral, and moral actions are those that keep the group running well and that fit within the rules of the group.  

  • turning up on time to basketball training is good as it makes the session run more effectively, and shows respect to team mates.
  • breaking a promise or stealing is bad as it breaks trust, and if a group cannot trust fellow members, then the group won’t function cooperatively. 
  • not doing your chores is bad as it results in others having to do your work, creates resentment between people, and makes others not want to contribute as well. 

The most powerful group (while a child is dependent) is the family group.  For good or ill, the most influential place to learn about right and wrong is thus within the family.  Being good role models ourselves is the most important teacher, but a close second is how we communicate within the family about right and wrong.

Moving from stage 3 to 4 occurs when the motivation is not to get the approval of the group, but rather the motivation comes from the young person’s beliefs about what is good for the group itself.  

But the other big change from stage 3 to 4 is that discussions around right and wrong increasingly use the language and understanding of why the family has certain rules.  Up until then, the why of good and bad does not matter, only the getting of benefit, or getting approval. Talking about and creating values-based rules as a family is one way of nurturing stage 4 morality as all get to wonder about and decide on:

  • the kind of family we want and why
  • what we all value and why
  • what is going to work for us all and why
  • what should we do so it is fair for everyone
  • how we are going to work out what roles and jobs different people at different ages should do in our group

These discussions can be done in a planned way as a whole family as outlined in chapter nine, or in a more ad hoc 1:1 way when problems arise. However they are done and whatever the setting, it is the curious conversation about right and wrong from a group perspective that is important.

Of course if your child is in control-combat-avoid mode when offering this discussion, it won’t be a conversation, rather it will be an adversarial debate. Such conversations are only possible if everyone is cool, calm and connected enough so they want to understand each other, repair whatever went wrong, and make a plan that suits the group. I’ve attached the video about one way to do this here. (NB: the 5 videos take a total of 50 minutes)