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OU on the BBC: Child of Our Time 2010 - Tyrese's story

Updated Monday, 16th October 2006

What does Tyrese's story tell us about child development?

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Tyrese Copyrighted  image Icon Copyright: Production team

Like many parents, Tyrese's mother, Marie, is concerned about his future, and whether he will succeed in making a good life for himself.

There are several things that are on Marie's mind. She's hoping that the more negative aspects of their neighbourhood don't influence Tyrese. She's hoping that Tyrese doesn't end up repeating the experience of divorce that Marie's parents, and then Marie, went through. And she's hoping that Tyrese won't be affected by a lack of attention from her when she has to put so much time into making a living.

The main outcome that she seems to be anxious about it whether Tyrese will develop a positive moral sense. Marie doesn't want him to end up involved with drugs or crime.

It's understandable that she's concerned about these things, but it is important to realise that, even if statistics show that children of parents who divorce are somewhat more likely to get divorced themselves, it's not a certainty.

Many children from intact families divorce and many children whose parents have separated go on to make happy and long-lasting marriages. The same is true for the effects of living in a troubled area - the things that Marie is worried about are best seen as 'risk factors' rather than firm causes.

But what are the positive influences on children's moral development? In the past, there was a very influential opinion - put forward by behavioural psychologists - that the most effective method was to reward positive moral choices made by children.

But now it has been realised that this is by no means the whole story. Just as important, maybe even more so, is for children to see other people behaving in morally positive ways and achieving good outcomes.

Another key factor seems to be talking with children about moral choices. These are two potent forms of learning that don't involve rewards; instead, they are based on 'modelling'. The most effective role models seem to be those who are seen to be successful in their lives and, with whom, a child can identify.

So, looked at in this way, Marie is doing some very appropriate things for Tyrese. By striving to provide a good living for her family, by having ambitions, she is providing a positive model for her children.

By giving her children love and affection, and talking with them about life choices, she is also making it much more likely that they will identify with her and model themselves on her.

For more on role models, and how children's moral development is affected by their environments, find out what our experts have to say about moral behaviour.

 

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