Raises a child morally

How do children develop values?

What is conscience

The conscience can be seen as an inner instrument of the person with which it regulates itself. This rule has three elements. As a parent you know: You can approach these elements consciously or you can only live through them unconsciously.

1. The person observes himself: how does he act? How does she decide? How did she behave just now?

2. The person evaluates himself: How did he act? Did she make a good decision? Does her behavior correspond to what she thinks is really good and right?

3. The person experiences a reinforcement - or, in the bad case, has to question himself: I did that well, that corresponds to my principles - this increases my self-esteem. Or: I didn't make a good decision, that contradicts what I think is right, I'm ashamed.

Children will not yet experience these phases in reflection. You will experience adults discussing with others, such as their partner, what is right to be done, and later commenting briefly on their decision in an evaluative manner. Children’s conscience is largely developed through external perception: Were others satisfied with me? Did I get praise for my behavior? This is how they feel what a clear conscience is. If you have a "grumble" in your stomach due to your behavior or have learned from others that you have not behaved correctly, then you feel a guilty conscience.

Development of Morale in Children

What children develop as their own set of values ​​in the course of their lives up to adulthood, they feed from various sources: They learn what parents and co-educators consider desirable and what one has to do when one is integrated into a community of people is and wants to stay. The example of parents or educators is memorable, the measure is based on a certain code of values, constantly, but perhaps also invisibly and not addressed.

Integration into a community and the catalog of values ​​that give this community an atmosphere are in turn dependent on the people who live in it. That is why every decision for a value or its rejection is always a personal decision.

In the development of the child's value system - and by the way also of the moral decisions of adults - experts speak of “morally related attitude” and of “personal preference”.

Very young children are what "egoists" would be among adults. Personal preference is your selection criterion. If the world is already demanding a lot of experience, then you look forward to any situation that suits your personal interest. Borrowing a toy to another child, handing in a biscuit, listening to music more quietly when mom wants to make a call - why? What you enjoy yourself has to be right.

Before children are three to four years old, giving in to personal inclination is not “bad intent, but simply the only way to make a decision. As the child's social experience increases, so does the child's ability to include the interests of other children and adults in making personal decisions.

At around ten years of age, children differentiate between what a person “should” or “must” do and what is left to the personal decision of each individual, depending on their inclination.

This is illustrated by a test on children and adolescents between the ages of seven and 15. You were faced with a decision: you should imagine that you get two phone calls in one day. In the first, a worried friend asked for help. In the second, a newly arrived girl invited to the cinema. - Around 65 percent of seven-year-old children clearly opted for the cinema, with nine-year-olds it was already a little over 50 percent who opted for the girlfriend who needed help. Among the twelve-year-olds, the proportion of those who knew they were committed to helping their girlfriends grew to 70 percent, and among the 15-year-olds to over 80 percent.

Both options contain the possibility of doing a friendship service. The cinema, however, also enhances the quality of what can be “extracted” from the day for the child or young person.

Self worth

First and foremost, children need a sense of self-worth. You are who, you are loved, you are important - a child who knows that it is not a “zero” has more faith in values ​​that make life worth living. It is important that children experience praise.

  • From here, children can be taught that they can set physical limits against cuddling, kissing, hugging, and actions by adults who they do not want.
  • From here, children can be taught that there are good and bad secrets, of which only the good, pleasant ones need to be kept. Bad secrets that create pressure are allowed, yes, they should be shared.

Conscience stories

One of the most common “moral misconduct” of children is - besides stealing, which occurs in many children around the age of five - lying. A popular story about this is an old tale of a little shepherd boy who now has to look after the flock of sheep alone on some nights. Several times the shepherd yells: “The wolf is here!” The villagers run to help him, but the wolf is not there. When he really comes and the shepherd boy calls for help, nobody comes to his aid.

The story is well suited to show the consequence of the lie. Whoever lies harms himself; not because he is simply recognizable as a liar and the target of ridicule, but because his disbelief prevents the people around him from being supportive of him.

Innate or trained?

It is often discussed among educators, i.e. experts in educational sciences, and psychologists whether the conscience is innate or acquired. In his book “The Empathy Principle”, the author Frans de Waal describes the centuries-old assumption that the strongest always prevails as too one-sided. Rather, he describes how even animals instinctively empathize with their fellow species and can show forms of "compassion". People do that too. The foundations were laid in the early days of human history: people would not have been able to survive if, for example, they had not been able to communicate about teamwork without words when hunting for food. Whoever wants to survive has to empathize with someone else, be able to understand his feelings without immediately sympathizing with or sympathizing with them.

The fact that children apparently unscrupulously bully others does not contradict the thesis of innate empathy, on the contrary: children who torture others do so because they know about the other person's feelings, can empathize with them and develop their own sense of superiority. There is justified hope that the more affirmation they themselves experience, the less they will act out this, and the more they can take on responsibility for others: "If conscience is neither obedience nor arbitrariness, then 'responsibility' comes closest to it," says the Catholic moral theologian Dietmar Mieth, “because in it attention and obedience, freedom and duty are combined in a good synthesis. Syneidesis, con-scientia, Ge-Wissen - the prefix stands for this 'together' in Greek, Latin and German. "

However, education is not about more knowledge and information. The American media ecologist Neil Postman advocates bringing children "into an environment that encourages collaboration, sensitivity and responsibility for others." Social learning locations and communities that want to be made valuable make children mature. Approaches such as “Compassion” projects promote the “development of socially responsible attitudes such as solidarity, cooperation, communication and commitment”.

Pragmatic, latently political, social

Like every generation, young people today incorporate the values ​​that they have found to be important into their lives. The Shell Youth Study, which regularly examines the living environment of young people, described the current generation of young people in its 2010 study as “pragmatic, but not adapted” in connection with the change in values. The results of the study on the orientations of twelve to 25-year-olds show: “Even if the political interest of young people is still well below the level of the 1970s and 1980s, the proportion of those interested in politics has increased slightly again. [...] Compared to previous years, more and more young people are socially committed: 39 percent are often committed to social or societal purposes. "

Value development and media

All people correct their identity. Children in particular orientate themselves towards other people. You are just at the beginning of your “value story”. In the current environment, however, they are not only based on interpersonal, modeled patterns, but also on patterns of lifestyle as shown in the media. As a consequence, making the media world inaccessible to children would mean excluding them from parts of human life stories - and from the narrative communities of their peers who participate in the media world as well as in the real world.

Good media education is always embedded in family history and family ratings. Television should not mean an escape from everyday life, but always needs to be supplemented by lived family pictures from “real life”. You don't just have to “sit” your children in front of the television. It is better to watch and discuss programs together. Then you can influence the values ​​your children take from the medium. Trick series that show inhumane representations are unfortunately also broadcast in children's program blocks. Switch off together and explain your decision not to watch this program. Here, too, your example and your decision as a parent or guardian are of great importance in the weighing pan of values.

Internet, social networks and computer games

Children and young people need help in using the Internet, which they also need for other areas of life. Fortunately, security tools are now standard on every computer and, for example, the special children's search engine “Bunte Kuh”, which does not take into account all the rubbish that children simply do not need for their “hits”.

When children use social networks, they already need a certain degree of security in dealing with them. It is often good to give older young people the task of giving a brief introduction. The tips on what to avoid - posting photos that show other children in unsightly situations, but also pictures that you don't need to see later in your own biography - just sounds "cooler" from their mouths than when you as parents give these warnings. Of course, you should be informed yourself what exactly you have to think about before disclosing your own data. And lead by example: do not post pictures of your children yourself! “Just ask your children when they are a few years older and the photos of their schoolmates are posted on their own pin board with a disdainful laugh. Not to mention even worse options than cyberbullying, which is already occurring more and more frequently today, ”advises lawyer Tobias Schäfer.

There is a need for discussion in a value-creating sense about computer games that you as parents do not buy for the children, but that are played online in a network with others. These include games that glorify violence, promise a lot of action, but also anchor images that are permanently damaging. “At the game console, personal commitment is required when you actively take on the role of someone who kills or tortures others. This explains why the intensive use of such games, according to the findings of American and German scientists [...], reduces the ability to empathize far more than the passive viewing of a correspondingly brutal film, "states the Criminological Research Institute of Lower Saxony in the research report on the age classification of computer games. Not all scientists share the view that there is a direct connection between the propensity for violence of young people and so-called “killer games”. Not all youth who play such games become violent criminals. Conversely, however, it has been shown that almost without exception all young people who went killing guns have also prepared their deeds on the basis of these games. Parents, schools and, if necessary, paediatricians work together here.

Biblical source for shaping values: God's longing for a great human life

The theologian Dieter Emeis recalls how God woos people. God longs for them to "not live below the level they are designed to be." In the tradition of the language of the Decalogue, "if you love me, you will not kill, steal ..." - Biblical values ​​can be promised to people: Because there is a God who is looking for you just like the neighbor child across the street, who you are can't stand, you won't despise yourself or this child. If you take God's longing for people seriously, you can find a consensus on values, build ethics, and revive morality.

Related Links


  • Doris Bischof-Köhler (1988): About the connection between empathy and the ability to recognize oneself in the mirror, in: Swiss Journal for Psychology 47, 147-159.
  • dies. (2009): Empathy, Compassion, and Cruelty. And how they are related, in: Psychotherapie 14, 52-57
  • Wolfgang Edelstein / Gertrud Nunner-Winkler / Gil Noam (eds.) (1993): Moral and Person, Suhrkamp Taschenbuch Wissenschaft, Frankfurt am Main.
  • Dieter Emeis (1997): Kleine Theologie der Sehnsucht, in: Katechetisch Blätter 122, 150-153.
  • Bernhard Grom (2000): Religious educational psychology, Patmos Verlag, Düsseldorf.
  • Neil Postman (1995): No More Gods. The end of upbringing, Berlin Verlag, Berlin.
  • Angela Reinders (2001): Children need God. How to give children confidence in life, Pattloch Verlag, Munich.
  • 16. Shell Youth Study

More articles by the author here in our family handbook


Angela M. T. Reinders, born in 1965, graduate theologian, editor at Bergmoser + Höller Verlag AG, Aachen


Angela M. T. Reinders
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Created on October 17th, 2013, last changed on December 12th, 2014