Upbringing to Form a Child’s Values

As described earlier, children acquire habits of behaviour by observing others who might not even realise how much influence they have (4.2.1).  Some upbringing, though, is designed to shape a child’s values in accordance with a specific agenda – which might be a religious education, for example.

It is widely accepted that parents have a right to influence children until they are regarded as autonomous.  For example, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (Appendix 1):

“Parents have a prior right to choose the kind of education that shall be given to their children.” [Article 26.3]

The importance of a child’s early years has long been recognised.  In the Bible, for example, Proverbs 22.6:

“Start children off on the way they should go, and even when they are old they will not turn from it.”

The right of parents to set the course of a child’s life is not uncontested though.  Richard Dawkins, in chapter 9 of his book The God Delusion, argues that it is an “abuse” to teach children religion before they are old enough to reach their own conclusions; an MAAW summary of the book reported him as arguing that “[t]he fear of burning in hell can be very real for otherwise rational people, but children are easily traumatized”.  There is disagreement about when, if ever, children have the right to make their own moral decisions.

Politicians set policies on education, so this subject comes up again in the Political chapter (



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