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Seeds of Light Foundation


Page Contents.



Entering Childhood.

By the time he or she reaches the age of eighteen to twenty-four months, the infant has entered the period of life called childhood, which extends from in fancy until puberty. The young child, or toddler, is skilled at walking and is beginning to use language effectively. These new abilities broaden the realm of the child's social activities.

Although its parents continue to exert the greatest influence on the child's development, other adults, children, and electronic media such as television begin to affect the child. The influence of these other figures increases throughout childhood, especially after the child begins to spend time in school, away from home. At the same time, the role of the parent changes.

During infancy, the parent is primarily a care-giver a nurturing, loving figure. As the child grows physically and becomes more active and more autonomous, the parents are required to provide less care and more discipline. Their tasks now include controlling the child's behavior and teaching the child to act in ways consistent with society's notions of good and bad, acceptable and unacceptable. This process of instilling the society's values in the child is called socialization. It is one of the major processes of childhood and has a profound effect on the child's social and personality development.

The basic goal of socialization is internalization - the child's incorporation of society's values into the developing personality to such an extent that violation of these standards produces a sense of guilt. In this section we will discuss two areas of childhood development in which socialization appears to play an important part: the development of gender roles and the development of moral behavior.


Acquiring Gender Roles.

As we mentioned in the section on infancy, sex differences in behavior begin to appear at a very early age. These differences between boys and girls become clearer during childhood. Each of the major theoretical perspectives on development offers a different explanation for the acquisition of gender role identities and sex-typed behavior behavior that is regarded as acceptable and appropriate either only for boys or only for girls.

It is not easy to assess the precise impact biology has on what we consider masculine and feminine behavior. We may get some idea of the innate factors that may underlie sex differences in behavior, however, if we observe the differences between male and female infants at and soon after birth, before they have had much chance to be affected by their environment.


Moral Development.

Morality behavior and judgment of self and others according to a set of rules of right conduct on the part of its citizens is of critical importance to the functioning, maintenance, and survival of any society. In 1908 the psychologist William McDougall wrote, "The fundamental problem of social psychology is the moralization of the individual by the society." More recently, moral development has been the focus of research by developmental psychologists.

The three psychological perspectives we have been discussing - psychoanalytic, behavioral or social learning, and cognitive developmental - have each been the basis of an explanation of the development of moral behavior. These theories differ, however, in the aspects of morality that they emphasize. Psychoanalytic theory attends to the affective, or emotional, aspects of morality, particularly the development of a conscience and a sense of guilt.

Social learning theorists emphasize the learning of specific moral behavior, such as honesty or generosity. Cognitive-developmental theorists pay little attention to either affect or behavior; they are interested primarily in how people think about moral issues. The three major theories also differ greatly in identifying the processes or mechanisms that produce moral development. Each theory explains the development of morality in a manner very similar to the way in which it explains the development of sex-typed behavior.


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