Linking Human Development to the Human Condition

Subject: Psychology
Pages: 12
Words: 3974
Reading time:
14 min
Study level: PhD


The theme of “infant growth” surfaces in Kohlberg’s moral development theory because infants are normally under the authority of their parents. Moreover, infant growth is almost synonymously characterized by punishments (for the frequent mistakes infants make because they are not old enough to understand what is right and what is wrong) (Kohlberg, 1981). Infant growth is determined as the point in a human being’s life between birth and two years of age. It is at this stage in life that a human being is able to make his or her first attempts in undertaking basic human activities like talking, walking, grasping and such like activities. Normally, experts note that infant growth is rather predictable and is driven by intrinsic values from within the person. Generally, infant growth is characterized by several stages of neurodevelopment and physical growth, but every child is subject to unique developmental traits which define their characters. This is normally the departure point for most children and also the same point where parents offer guidance. The developmental milestones often covered by children during infant growth are the ones shaped by the actions of their parents. However, such progress is not only defined by the parent’s actions but rather, the personality of the parents, the parental styles adopted by the parents, socioeconomic status of the parents and other demographical factors. Through this analysis, we can therefore see that infant growth is normally characterized by an instinct to continually avoid punishment. This is the first stage of growth Kohlberg identifies to be important in developing moral reason (Kohlberg, 1981).

The theme of “academic development” surfaces as one major theme in Kohlberg’s second stage of moral reasoning which is self-interest orientation (Kohlberg, 1981). This theme is apparent in Kohlberg’s second stage because academic success is normally attributed as one’s personal benefit. This is true because people do not often undertake academic courses for fun; rather, it is a pursuit people undertake to better their lives and therefore, to a large extent, this represents selfish interests. For instance, when adult learners undertake academic pursuits; most of the time, they do so because they want to scale up their professional careers. This motive best represents a selfish interest on their part.

Also, as children grow up, they are normally encouraged to undertake various academic pursuits with the aim of having a better life in future. Often, such sentiments are expressed by parents to empower their children intellectually and most importantly, to enable them to get a good job in future. Some say the key to richness is education and that is why the most elite people in the society invest in education. To a large degree, academic achievement seeks to empower individuals and ultimately enable them to live a good life. This goal represents selfish interests.

The theme of “children and violence” surfaces at the third stage of moral reasoning identified by Kohlberg because child actions and violence is normally dictated by social norms and interpersonal conformity. Children who are identified to refrain from the vice are normally considered as conforming to social norms, while those who do not conform are also seen to lack an interpersonal accord with the society. One challenging task of a parent or a healthcare professional is to help children overcome the emotional problems which are normally witnessed with the occurrence of violence. Violence has a very devastating impact on child development because the extensiveness of violence normally affects their cognitive development, emotional stability, academic performance and even physical wellbeing. Violence therefore surfaces as a vice that is contrary to the social norms of the society. The theme of children and violence is also in harmony with the “good boy” or “good girl” attitude identified in Kohlberg’s third stage of moral reasoning.

The theme of juvenile justice also surfaces in the context of the fourth stage of Kohlberg’s moral development because juvenile justice is aimed at punishing minor offenders with a socially or legally frowned habit. Considering juvenile systems isolate offenders and expose them through rigorous rehabilitation systems, many minors would often have the initial instinct of conforming to law and order (which is encompassed in Kohlberg’s fourth stage of moral reasoning).

In the fifth stage of moral reasoning, the theme of “child abuse” surfaces as one element of social contract reasoning because as children grow up into adults, they are often required by the society to guide their children into adulthood, through acceptable ethical principles. Though not all adults live up to this expectation, this principle can be perceived as a social orientation exercise between a parent and the society. Kohlberg’s last stage of moral development (universal ethical principles) appeals to the theme of “family stability” because to a large extent, the stability of a family is normally perceived in the eyes of the society and the roles different family members play in the family.

Themes on Human Development

The themes identified above (in the context of Kohlberg’s six stages of moral development) play a big role in human development. The theme of “infant growth” is common in the early stages of human development when children are learning how to talk, walk, and eat (including such like basic human activities). During this human development stage, infants are normally under the supervision of their parents and they get to learn what is good and what is right; simply by knowing that a certain act will warrant punishment while another will not. This observation is true because during the infancy stage of human development, parents are often aware that their children have not developed the cognitive ability to understand what is right and wrong. However, in cases where the children do something wrong, they are punished; probably by being pinched or in another subtle way of informing them that their action is wrong.

As human beings grow older, the theme of “academic development” comes in focus and though academic development goes on for a long time in the life of a human being, many people get to learn that their quest for academic progression is normally motivated by selfish or personal gain. This is true because as human beings grow, they are taught at a tender age that academic development is majorly for their own good. In other words, they are told that they are molding their future, through academic achievement. This fact often becomes clear as they grow older because whatever academic qualification a human being gets is termed a personal achievement symbol and nobody can withdraw such achievements from them.

“Children and violence” also surface as an important theme in human development because it is an important part of human growth. ASU (2011) affirms that “Violence is (and always has been) a part of the human condition. From war to child abuse, murder to school-yard bullying, violence takes its toll, often with children being the innocent victims (or occasionally the not-so-innocent perpetrators)”. It is at a young stage in a human’s life that he first experiments with the vice of violence and it is also at this stage that human beings learn about interpersonal accord and conformity to social standards. In other words, it is at this stage of human development that human beings learn that violence is frowned upon by the society. Children who get involved in violent acts are often punished and encouraged to refrain from the vice so that they can live fulfilling lives.

In close relation to the theme of “children and violence” is the theme of “juvenile justice” which falls in Kohlberg’s fourth stage of moral development. This is true because juvenile justice is designed to reduce instances of juvenile delinquency. Moreover, it is designed in a framework that provides for the protection, treatment and rehabilitation of minor offenders, which falls under the category of “authority and social order maintaining orientation” in Kohlberg’s fourth stage of moral development. The element of “state authority” probably comes into sharp focus here because it is the first point in a human beings’ life that state authority is felt. The juvenile system seeks to rehabilitate minors who have committed the most serious offences and in a way, it acts as the bridge for most teenagers into adulthood.

The theme “child abuse” represents one of the most basic functions of human beings as adults and more so, as parents. This is true because the society expects adults to behave as adults and not like children (behaviors which are contrary to their younger years). Child abuse is an example of such a responsibility because it falls under “social contract orientation” (in Kohlberg’s six stages of moral development) whereby, guardians and parents are supposed to speak against the vice or not practice it all together. Emphasis is made on adults at this point because it is the adults who perpetrate the ill of child abuse. The theme of child abuse therefore represents one of the basic responsibilities of human beings as adults (under the stage – social contract orientation).

In Kohlberg’s last stage of moral development, the theme of “family stability” surfaces. The last stage is defined by universal ethical principles which define the conduct of adults worldwide. In other words, human beings at this point conform to globally recognized principles. At the core of this analysis is the theme of family stability. The virtue of family stability is usually acknowledged universally and most people strive to maintain such a condition because it is generally accepted. This theme represents one of the highest stages of human development.

Solutions through Social Change and Intervention

One of the major frontiers through which a sustainable social change can be attained is by equipping young children with positive knowledge through education, so that they overcome certain social problems identified in previous sections of this study. Changing school curricula to include certain socially reinforcing principles will go a long way in changing the society by inculcating positive social traits at a young age (Kohlberg, 1983). Inculcating positive social traits will enable children at a tender age develop admirable traits which will also enable them develop positive personality traits in future. Targeting the education system is important in this analysis because it is difficult to change the behaviors of adults as opposed to children. Moreover, it is only through a change in the education system that the society can be widely impacted. The government plays a crucial role in making such an initiative a success.

Themes in Media Articles

The theme of developmental trauma is prominent in many media articles exposing child abuse and punishment because of its impact on the growth of children (from infancy into adulthood). Normally, the theme of developmental trauma is prominent in the growth of children, especially when parents inflict emotional harm to their children, without any regard to their developmental needs (Reyes, 2008). This theme is prominent because victims who have suffered such physical and emotional abuse are likely to suffer behavioral disorders. This is caused by a lack of adequate care giving system.

Developmental trauma is envisaged in instances where there are severe traumatizing effects on victims, since they are likely to develop extreme concerns about their safety and more so, about the intention of people in the first place. Experts also acknowledge that, such kinds of concerns are likely to inhibit a victim’s ability to relate with people in future (Nixon, 2011). In cases where developmental trauma is instigated by young people, the same effect can be noted on the offenders as well. Many articles have in the past focused on physical and sexual abuse as the main causes of psychological trauma, but the vice is also caused by other incidents such as hate crime. The theme of developmental trauma prominently surfaces in this context, although it does not fall into the pattern of conventional psychologically traumatizing events.

Though developmental trauma is normally inflicted by negligent parents, there are incidents where mental incapacitation or psychological disorders play a role in the upheaval of the vice. Parents who suffer from this condition are normally known to deny their children the right to energetic attunement, protection and safety. Children are known to require this support, especially three years after birth and therefore, developmental trauma disorder is bound to surface as a result (Kirmayer, 2007).

The theme of developmental trauma is also envisaged in criminal offences involving adult guardians who are not in touch with their children’s’ emotional and psychological needs. This issue occurs because such adults fail to relate their day-to-day struggles with the developmental needs of children. As a result, children who suffer such eventualities are likely to suffer from a hard-wired brain and nervous system because most of their lives will be built around such incidents (Nixon, 2011). In other words, such children are likely to live a lifestyle characterized by actions that will always remind them of incidents of abuse or molestation. Consequently, this leads to developmental trauma because such children will not be able to live a normal life, like their peers.

In a recent article done by Nixon (2011), it was reported that, the effects of developmental trauma on affected children may be far worse than the physical effects. In fact, it was affirmed that, children who were bullied at a young age may need years to heal the psychological scar they suffer as a result. The theme of developmental trauma is therefore widespread in this context because children suffering from it are known to develop reflex behaviors when they feel under attack, and this may prompt them to flee whenever they feel vulnerable to an event that may remind them of a previous psychologically traumatizing event. In fact, it is assumed that, this reflex is one primary reason why students who have suffered bullish attacks grow up to be hyperactive.

Though, many people believe normal parental activities do not have any significant traumatizing effects on children, indirectly it is difficult to affirm the same. This is true because if normal parental guidance (like breast-feeding) continues for long, affected children are bound to feel “different” from their peers. This is a different type of developmental trauma which comes about through excessive parental affection. As a result, it is easy for children who go through such instances to believe they have a developmental problem, or are weaker as compared to other children. The theme of developmental trauma is therefore very prominent in this case.

In events where parents commit atrocious acts like killing their children, the relational disconnect between the parent and the child ultimately exposes the theme of developmental trauma. In fact, such incidents are bound to affect the mental health of affected children because it is not clear why a parent would want to kill his or her child. Such questions are likely to affect victims as they grow up, and until such questions are answered, they will have a disconnection with reality. In other words, such events remain in the mind of the children because not only will they suffer physical injuries, they are also bound to suffer emotional trauma. This fact exposes the theme of developmental trauma because when such children grow up, they will experience hate towards other people, because they bearing the scar of past incidents they had little control of. Collectively, these incidents bring to fore the theme of “developmental trauma” for children, but more importantly, it exposes the vulnerability of children to extreme life events.

Impact of Developmental Trauma on Human Development

The theme of “developmental trauma” is very important in the human developmental process because it affects the behavior of human beings into their adult lives (especially if their traumas are not dealt with at a tender age). Moran (2007) defines developmental trauma as “the multifaceted nature of sequelae experienced by children when violence, neglect, and fear form the fabric of their early existence” (p. 20). Experts note that developmental trauma usually manifests in biological and psychological ways which can also interfere with the way victims undertake developmental tasks, or the way children can be clinically diagnosed for developmental problems. For instance, in a case similar to the 3 Brown sisters; an 11 year old girl who was also molested by her parents had to undergo several reconstructive surgeries to reconstruct her body but eliminating her psychological trauma proved a difficult task to do (Moran, 2007, p. 12). Symptoms of her problem included the privatization of her life and an increased fear to form any meaningful adult bonds such as friendship. The child also had a problem forming meaningful relationships with children of her own age (Moran, 2007, p. 12). Sometimes, it was reported that she experienced severe rage which manifested in extreme outbursts that later prompted authorities to withdraw her from her grandmother’s house where she had found solace from her parent’s home. This symptoms only scratch the surface of what experts believe is the real impact of developmental trauma on human development. To affirm this fact Moran (2007) points out that developmental trauma:

“has a pervasive impact on the developing brain, resulting in wide-ranging behavioral and neurobiological symptoms including depression, attention disorders, various somatic illnesses, interpersonal problems, and impulsive and self-destructive behaviors. Moreover, the symptoms are liable to interfere with sequential developmental tasks, creating new difficulties with each succeeding stage of development and complicating the clinical picture as the child matures” (p. 20).

Such is the kind of severity psychological trauma has on human development. In terms of diagnosing such problems, Moran (2007) further affirms that “The determination that we are somehow missing many children who we cannot fully and accurately diagnose [with the current diagnostic criteria] has just crystallized in the last few years” (p. 20). This means that developmental trauma has become more complex than it used to be and though many researchers are focused on it at the moment, a lot still needs to be done to remedy its effects. However in providing the best remedy for this effect, a thorough analysis needs to be done to understand how best one can handle developmental trauma. One such means is Kohlberg’s six stages of moral development.

Kohlberg’s Application

When analyzing psychological trauma through Kohlberg’s six stages of moral development, it is important to understand the stage of moral reasoning that the perpetrators of moral reasoning use. In Kohlberg’s point of view, the opinion of the public or the society is not as significant as the reasons which prompted the offenders to commit the crime they did. We can break down the possible arguments which could be advanced to justify the actions of the offenders.

In the first stage of Kohlberg’s six stage of moral development (obedience), we can say that, Keith Brown should not have defiled his daughters because he would be committing an offence and putting himself at the risk of being arrested and locked away. The same can also be said of the 48 year old woman and her daughter who both molested a 13 year old boy; including the foster mother who beat a 17 month old baby to near death. When their actions are analyzed according to Kohlberg’s first stage of moral development, it can be said that they are all bad people as a result of their actions. At the same time, it could be said that, Keith Brown was the father of the victims (the three daughters) and the foster mother who beat the 17-month old child had the right over the child and therefore, they both had the right to do what they did because the victims were their subjects. In other words, Keith’s actions could not be the same if he molested the daughter of another person and in the same manner, the actions of the foster mother could not be the same if she beat another person’s child.

In the second stage of Kohlberg’s six stages of moral reasoning, it can be said that, Keith Brown was fulfilling his own selfish interests of sexual pleasure (or probably a psychological need that he satisfied as a result of molesting his daughters). The same can also be said of Susan, and her daughter who both sexually molested the 13 year old boy. At the same time, it could also be argued that Keith Brown, Susan, and her daughter should have restrained themselves from molesting their victims because it is an awful offence and it would cost them a lifetime of agony in prison as a result. In this analysis, he could be avoiding self agony, which is a selfish interest. The same can also be said of the foster parent who beat her child, since she could also have refrained from beating the child so that she avoids jail time.

In the third stage of Kohlberg’s moral reason, the foster mother’s actions can be said to be in conformance to social norms because it was within her right to discipline the child. Moreover, neither she nor Mr. Brown violated the rights of any other child but their own. In other words, their actions were confined to their role as parents. In the fourth stage of Kohlberg’s moral development, it can be said that Mr. Brown, Susan, and her daughter should not have molested their victims because they would be violating the law. In other words, it is impossible for sexual offenders to commit acts which are against the law and expect to go scot-free since the law has its own consequences. The same can also be said of the foster parent because she was in contravention of the law when she mercilessly beat her child.

In the fifth stage of moral reasoning (human rights), it can be argued that Keith Brown, Susan, Susan’s daughter and the foster mum should not have violated their victims because they were violating their rights as children. In a blunt way, it can be said that Brown’s three daughters had the right to choose whoever they wanted to be with and therefore, their father’s action on their innocence was therefore a violation of their right to choose a partner to share an intimate relationship with. From this point of view, it can also be argued that the mere fact that he was their father did not mean that he should have molested them. The action of the foster mum also falls in this analysis, though she was almost in violation of her child’s right to live. In the last stage of Kohlberg’s six stages of moral development it can be argued that Keith Brown, Susan, and her daughter should not have molested their victims because they would be encouraging a trend in the society where adults molest their children and expect to get away with it (because they have a parental right over their children). The same trend would have been encouraged by the foster mum if she would have not been detected because she would be enhancing the theme of “child abuse” in the society.

Solution to the Human Problems

Kohlberg’s theory of moral reasoning can provide a good remedy to the theme of psychological trauma evidenced in the above episodes of moral reasoning. Kohlberg identifies that the moral reason of human beings is progressive, in a psychological manner, and it is in conformance to the norms or values existent in the society. The human problems identified above can therefore be easily solved within the context of “justice operation”. In the context of justice operation, “equality” and “reciprocity” surface, in the sense that, Kohlberg says that people should do to another person what they would be comfortable with, if the same actions were done to them. At the centre of this analysis is the concept of “knowledge and learning” because people develop good moral reasoning as a result of it. To overcome the identified human problems it is therefore important to avail knowledge to people so that they can learn and develop the appropriate moral reasoning framework.


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