Children’s Reasoning About Deception and Defiance as Ways of Resisting Parents’ and Teachers’ Directives

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Abstract

This research presented 8-, 10-, and 12-year-olds (N = 120) with hypothetical situations depicting comparably aged children engaging in defiance and deception to circumvent authorities’ directives that they disagreed with. The nature of the situations varied in terms of domain (personal, moral, or prudential) and type of authority figure (parent or teacher). Evaluations and justifications for the legitimacy of the directives, defiance, and deception were examined, as were general evaluations of deception. Across domains, increased age was associated with decreased acceptance of directives, and increased acceptance of defiance and deception. Participants judged that defiance and deception were legitimate ways to resist immoral directives. Directives about personal acts were also widely rejected, particularly teachers’ directives. Defiance and deception were seen by some as legitimate ways to resist unwarranted control over children’s personal choices. Prudential directives were widely accepted, whereas defiance and deception in those situations was generally rejected. Results indicate that children value honesty and authority but sometimes prioritize moral and personal considerations when deciding whether or not to lie. Findings are discussed in terms of the ways children coordinate multiple competing rules and motivations when making moral judgments about honesty.

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