Moral Dilemmas & Kids


“People are like stained glass windows. They sparkle and shine when the sun is out but when darkness sets in their true beauty is revealed only if there is light from within.”– Elizabeth Kubler-Ross

With increasing amount of mental pressure on children, moral dilemmas for students too have increased. This article shares some examples of moral dilemmas for students, that will help you understand the complex phenomena in a simple manner.

There are times when we cannot think of what is right or wrong or what we should do or we shouldn’t. Moral dilemma generally refers to the situation, where you have to choose between between two alternatives, that are generally equally unpleasant. There is no exact definition for moral dilemma, as it is related to human emotions and not all the emotions can be explained in words. People learn to solve and cope with mental dilemmas over many years of experience but it is quite difficult for young kids, adolescents, and teenagers to confront with their emotions and come to terms with moral or ethical issues. Merely reading or listening to moral stories does not make the task easy. To solve any mental dilemma, you need decision power, good analytical ability, and self-realization.

Various Moral Dilemmas for Students

Parents can guide children when they are at home but once the children go to school, they have to handle moral dilemmas on their own. We will discuss moral dilemmas through various case studies.

John was a 12 year old boy. Next month he had to appear for his annual exam. His father told him that if he scores good in all the subjects he would buy a cycle for him. John was excited and studied really hard for annual exams. But he knew that he always scores less in science. He studied hard for science paper and went for the exam. The teacher distributed answer sheets and sat in one place. John started solving the paper but he wasn’t sure about his answer. He was tempted to look into his friend’s answer sheet as the teacher was not there. He thought that its only science he is weak in, otherwise he is sure to top in other subjects. So why not copy a little in one subject. He would also get the cycle if he tops. John thought he could easily peep in to his friend’s paper and he indeed did so and felt terribly guilty about this later. Nobody knew about this, except John.

Moral Dilemmas and Kids

Case Study:

Sam knew something was weird the second he got to class on Tuesday morning. He saw kids whispering and pointing at him. Some were looking at him funny. He sat down next to his best friend and picked up the graded report the teacher, Mr. Crosby, had graded over the weekend. Sam looked at the ” A-“ and forgot about the rest of the class for a minute. He had worked hard at that report and was thrilled it had paid off. He looked up and saw a bunch of kids staring at him. While the teacher cleaned up the white board, Sam whispered to Dylan, “ What’s going on?” Dylan, looked down and said quietly, “Conner told everyone you copied your report from the internet.” “ But, that’s a lie!” Sam said. “I never cheat and everyone knows it.” He was hurt and angry. He couldn’t focus the rest of the morning in class.

At recess he went up to Conner and asked him if he had really told everyone he had cheated. “ It’s no big deal,” Conner scoffed. “ I only told a few people. Lighten up. It was just a joke.” Sam turned and walked away. He wanted to yell at Conner, or hit him, or something. He just wanted to make Conner feel as bad as Conner had made him feel.

For the next two days, Sam avoided Conner but Sam and Dylan made up as many lies as they could think of about Conner to get back at him. They told kids that he was jealous of anyone who did well in school because he almost failed fourth grade last year. They told the girl Conner liked that he still wet his bed sometimes. But it wasn’t helping. Sam was still just as mad at Conner. In fact, all he thought about now was Conner and what he had done.

On Thursday, Mr. Crosby had all three boys stay to talk with him during recess. He told them they had until the end of recess to work out whatever it was that was going on between them. If they had not all forgiven each other by the end of recess, they had to go to the principal’s office. Then Mr. Crosby left the classroom.

The three boys stared angrily at each other waiting for someone to say something. Sam didn’t know what to say. All he knew was that he was tired of being mad and hurt. What could he do to make it stop? And what did Mr. Crosby mean by all forgive each other?

Moral Dilemmas and Kids

How to solve?

The idea of forgiveness is a tricky one for all young people, but especially elementary age kids. They don’t have sufficient experience to understand how forgiving someone can actually make YOU feel better. The act of letting go of negative thoughts and actions is a challenge for young kids and teens because the drama and emotion truly suck them in and they lose perspective. Once that happens, pride locks them in. Often they see no real way out. They need help understanding and discussing the concept of forgiveness. They need help to see that they have the power within themselves to achieve peace again, not the person who hurt them.

Can younger kids can really grasp this concept. As most of you know, they can. It is the lack of discussing this concept of forgiveness that is the obstacle. Younger kids actually “get it” better than the teens (or adults). And if we bring this topic to the proverbial table more frequently, and make it more real for the younger kids, perhaps it will make the soap operas of the high school years more manageable.

Moral dilemmas involve lot of mental conflict between two choices, in which choosing one would result in offending another. At such situations, it is important for a student to choose between the two unpleasant situations and take the right decision.

How To Solve Moral Dilemmas for Students?

There is only one way to solve the moral dilemma and that is opting for one of the situations. Before choosing any of the situations, it is important that a student analyzes the situation in a holistic manner. Parents and teachers play a major role in this task of solving moral dilemmas for students. Though they cannot be there with children everywhere, they must mentally prepare their children to face such situations. It is also important not to sound very preachy while discussing moral issues with your children. Guide your children subtly about what is right and what is wrong. Also tell them that life is not only about black and white, but it is full of myriad gray shades. Make them understand the conceptual differences between morals vs ethics, that can become quite confusing at times.

It is important to note that younger children base their moral judgments on consequences and not on the motive behind the act. This happens because many of the parents just explain what is wrong but not why a certain thing is wrong. Explaining this helps children analyze the situation better and solve the moral dilemma effectively. Always appreciate the positive behavior of your children without any conditions. For example, If your child is studying hard, appreciate it but do not say that you will reward his hard work only if he gets good marks. An overall good child development process prepares students to face various moral dilemmas in their school life. It helps them cope with stressful events with ease and stay content without loosing mental peace.

With these insights on moral dilemmas for students, you know how complex and subjective the issue is. But solving moral dilemmas effectively certainly brings happiness.

Probe Gently

When you probe gently, ask just enough open-ended questions to get your children thinking. This means avoid yes and no questions because they stop the conversation.

Listen Carefully

When you listen carefully, you’ll talk less. No lecturing. As you know, kids don’t listen to lectures. I remember a dad in my counseling practice who admitted to lecturing his daughter two hours straight. When she tapped her fingers and rolled her eyes, he would yell, “Are you listening?” Parents, what do you think?

Appreciate Honestly

When you appreciate honestly, you’ll find ideas and opinions in your kids’ discussions for you to praise. This practice is called “influencing.” When you approve of what your children think, they’ll be more likely to keep thinking in the praiseworthy direction. Praising kids for their thoughts also encourages them to share more.

No Criticism

When you keep criticism out of the conversation, you provide an open and safe atmosphere to discuss what your children really think. If you hear something you don’t like, ask more questions to clarify what they said or take time outside of the discussion to think how you will approach the situation again.

Character, Social Conscience, and Kids

Building character begins by getting your child to talk. Don’t insist your child thinks just like you. He’ll resist any forcing. Be more interested in how he already thinks. By using the PLAN you’ll hear how he thinks. Don’t be surprised when you hear him speak with your values. If he voices values you disapprove of, ask questions to get him to think deeper. You’ll be developing a social conscience in him.

Social conscience grows with the right questions. When your child figures out how others think and feel, he’ll begin to understand others’ intentions. For instance, He’ll realize, Peter, the boy next door, cheats because he thinks he has to be perfect. He’ll realize his teacher gives homework to reinforce what was taught. He’ll realize why you say, “No,” too.

Social Conscience Questions to ask your Child

1 Why do you think?
Why do you think Peter cheats?

2 What will happen if…?
What will happen if Peter gets caught cheating?

Why is cheating wrong?
These 3 questions help your child walk in Peter’s shoes. They also help him think what would happen if he cheated. These questions will help him think deeper and develop character with a social conscience.

With moral dilemmas your child will enjoy giving his opinions. He’ll love your attention, praise, and questions. Follow the PLAN. Build character with a social conscience. Feel good about your parenting too.

Two authors, Miriam Schulman (Cheating Themselves) and Kirk Hanson (Nation of Cheaters) have each published books on cheating and situational ethics. Generally speaking, there are five reasons why students cheat:

Denial of Injury: “No one’s hurt by it.” Twenty-nine percent of students polled in one of Schulman’s studies said cheating was justified if the student learned from it.

Denial of Victim: Blame the teacher for their behavior or say the work was meaningless anyway.

Appeal to Higher Loyalties: Seventy-five percent of students polled cited a need to please their families, or they felt peer pressure.

Denial of Responsibility: “Everyone does it. If I don’t, I’m left in the dust. Good guys finish last.”

Fear of Failure: Student doesn’t cheat to get ahead—student cheats because of fear of embarrassment or failure. “I have to go to an Ivy League school. I have to win.”

Parents, if you’d like to discuss right and wrong with your kids, apply the 4 Point Plan for using moral dilemmas with your kids. You’ll be building character too.

Print these 4 letters underneath each other-P L A N

Each letter in the word PLAN is a discussion strategy. Hopefully, this little memory trick will help you remember the plan.

  • Probe gently.
  • Listen carefully.
  • Appreciate honestly.
  • No criticism.

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