Evidence That It Works
Moral dilemmas can help children practice empathy, think purposefully, and gain an awareness of the potential impact of courageous actions. A study of five-year-old children from South Korea revealed that when children were able to look beyond their own perspective, they were able to empathize with victims and bystanders in a bullying situation. Studies also suggest that stories can spark U.S. elementary students’ values-based conversations and perspective-taking skills.
Further, researchers in England found that young adolescents’ (12-15 years) moral decision-making was influenced by their existing knowledge, personal experience, peers, and their ability to reflect on their decisions. More specifically, when responding to dilemmas, many students claimed that they drew on their values and considered others’ needs while weighing the consequences of their choices. These students’ considerations can be linked to the core components of courage: 1) a “risk” (and the necessity of weighing the benefits and/or consequences of one’s actions), 2) an “intention” (a will to take action), and a “noble goal” (a larger value on behalf of the self, others, and/or the greater good).
Why Does It Matter?
Research has shown that children as young as three years old face moral dilemmas and internal conflicts. As they get older, children face social dilemmas and decision-making processes that grow in complexity.
Bullying is one of the key social challenges in schools that not only contributes to a poor school climate but also impacts the health and wellbeing of students involved. And many students struggle with how to respond to bullying and social exclusion.
A child’s ability to thoughtfully respond to bystander dilemmas may be foundational to future courageous action. Courage, as an overarching virtue, can spark and guide students as they prioritize their values, consider the choices in front of them, and weigh the potential consequences of their actions.