Module 5 Notes
Section 1
Section 2
Section 3
Section 4

Moral Development

Section 4, Article 1 - During adolescence and emerging adulthood, individuals undergo moral development — that is, they witness changes in their thoughts, feelings, and behaviors about what is right and wrong. Kohlberg’s theory of moral reasoning () argues that moral development occurs in three levels, each with two stages. By increased internalization and observing positive models, adolescents move to the second stage, which involves living according to the specific standards of others. Then adolescents move to the third stage, in which morality is more internal and becomes one’s own. Compared to children, adolescents engage in more prosocial behavior, and girls do so more than boys. Two important aspects of prosocial behavior are forgiveness and gratitude, which are clearly emphasized throughout Scripture. According to behaviorists, moral behavior is influenced by reinforcement, punishment, and imitation. In contrast, Freud believed that children may adopt their parents’ moral standards to avoid feeling guilty (). Currently, many view both negative and positive feelings — such as guilt and empathy — as important to moral development.

Biblical Context

Forgiveness: Ephesians 4:32; Matthew 18: 21-22; Colossians 3:13. 

Gratitude: Luke 17:11-19. 

Kohlberg's Theory of Moral Reasoning

Preconventional Morality
Stage 1 obedience and punishment driven What is right and wrong is determined by what is punishable.  Moral action is essentially the avoidance of punishment.
Stage 2 self interest driven What is right and wrong is determined by what brings rewards and what people want.  Other people's wants and needs come into the picture, but only in a reciprocal sense.
Conventional Morality
Stage 3 good intentions as determined by social consensus Make decisions on the basis of what will please others.  Concerned about maintaining interpersonal relations.
Stage 4 authority and social order obedience driven Looks to society as a whole for guidelines about behavior.  Thinks of rules as flexible, unchangeable.
Post-Conventional Morality
Stage 5 social contract driven Recognizes that rules are social agreements that can be changed when necessary.
Stage 6 universal ethical principles driven Adheres to a small number of abstract principles that transcend specific, concrete rules.  Answers to an inner conscience.
Moral Reasoning and Spiritual Formation in Adolescence
Cognitive Change, Religion, and Spirituality