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Old 4th November 2009, 07:22 AM   #1 (permalink)
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Good kid, bad kid

Good kid, bad kid



by June Cheong


Children are inherently innocent, psychiatrists and psychologists believe.

However, when do children become aware that certain of their actions are deviant or even evil?

'Children are born innocent. Their experiences, environment and society will shape the way they interpret and understand their surroundings and what they think is right or wrong,' said

Ms Silvia Fontanella, a psychologist at VA Psychology Centre.

Because of this strongly accepted belief in the inherent innocence of children, the recent case of a nine-year-old boy described as 'fixated on sex' caught the media and the public's attention.

Two weeks ago, The Straits Times reported the court case of a 37-year-old tutor convicted of allowing the boy to perform oral sex on him on five occasions.

The boy was described in court as 'hyper-sexualised'.

He is not alone in exhibiting behaviour that society would normally not associate with children. In a famous 1993 case, two-year-old toddler Jamie Bulger was found to have been abducted and murdered by two 10-year-old boys in northern England.

Last year in Singapore, 1,892 children between the ages of seven and 15 were arrested for criminal acts ranging from theft to rioting.

People are often shocked to read or learn about children committing crimes. Referring to this, Ms Geraldine Tan, a child psychologist at the Centre for Effective Living, said: 'That is because it is not pleasant to read about it.

'Every such report is a learning point for society, teachers and parents that something went wrong and that something needs to be done.'

Newborn to 3 years old

Adjunct Associate Professor John Wong, a senior consultant at the department of psychological medicine at National University Hospital, said that there are two important systems of values children must pick up - that of justice and that of care and concern for others.

He said: 'For the majority of children under three years old, the value system of care will come first.

'The concept of justice comes later when the child is exposed to a group milieu or a structured environment like the schooling system.'

Ms Vanessa von Auer, clinic director of VA Psychology Centre, added that children under three years old understand basic messages like 'mummy is mad' or 'I should stop this behaviour'.

However, they do not possess higher order thinking skills like taking on another person's point of view or the ability to solve a problem.

She said: 'They tend to imitate parents, so role-modelling acceptable behaviours is of utmost importance during these years.'

4 to 6 years old

When children are between four and six years old, they start to interact more with others, including their peers, and they begin to understand and test moral and socially accepted rules and values.

Ms Tan said: 'They will try to find out why something is wrong or right. If a friend throws things on the floor, the child will ask his parent why his friend can do it when he is not allowed to.'

7 to 9 years old

From the ages of seven to nine, children become more socially aware and understand the basic rights of others as well as social mores.

The Swiss psychologist Jean Piaget, who was the first to make a systematic study of the acquisition of understanding in children, noted that children under 10 years old believe that rules are cast in stone and that since these are governed by adults, they cannot be changed.

But this begs the question: How are they to know these rules are right or wrong?

Ms von Auer said: "They learn what is right or wrong through testing boundaries and experiencing consequences."

Dr Adrian Wang, a consultant psychiatrist at Dr Adrian Wang Psychiatric & Counselling Care, said: ?Children can be taught what is right or wrong from a young age.

"You can teach them values like the need to share when they are as young as two. As they grow older, they will test the limits and you need to keep reminding them what the boundaries are."

He added that peers and the media will influence kids more and more so they need the right guidance. It is important that parents be consistent in their behaviour and language.

10 to 12 years old

Children aged 10 to 12 begin to develop a deeper understanding of right and wrong.

Ms von Auer said: "At this age, children can engage in higher order thinking and know right from wrong.

"They have grown up with their parents' and peers' influences and values and may have adapted them accordingly.

"At the same time, they understand that rules are not sacred, which may make them disagree with or rebel against certain ones."

Nature vs nurture

While a child's environment is important in shaping his moral compass, genes play a part too.

Ms von Auer said if children display deviant behaviour regularly or have the urge to commit violent or destructive acts, their pathology and motivations should be examined.

She said: 'There is a high probability the child is suffering from some psychological disorder such as an impulse control disorder like kleptomania (the need to steal or hoard) or a personality disorder, thus making it a nature factor.

'Nature and nurture are, however, intertwined and one can alleviate or exacerbate a bad situation. For example, a child may steal because his family cannot afford to buy him the toys he wants, but this may have to do with his circumstances or him wanting to fit in with his peers.'

Prof Wong said: 'Children from stable families, where parents set clear rules and boundaries and show their love, have a greater sense of morals.'

He agreed that both nature and nurture play a role, but he added: 'As to how influential nature is, it is a can of worms. Scientists cannot really pinpoint how one's genes influence one's morality, but we know they do.'

Although genetic make-up - and the propensity to be good - cannot be changed, psychiatrists and psychologists Mind Your Body spoke to emphasised the importance of a child's parents or guardians in shaping his moral compunctions by creating and reinforcing his moral framework.

Prof Wong said: 'Children grow and learn by observing. It is important for parents to decide on their family values and to live by them.

'This is most difficult as parents may not always be consistent or cannot walk the talk. Yet, a values system is the bedrock of a family.'

Source: http://www.divaasia.com/article/5804

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Old 4th November 2009, 07:34 AM   #2 (permalink)
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Re: Good kid, bad kid

Children are like sponge. They absorb and learn whatever they see or hear.
We should sometimes take note of what we do in front of them.

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