Theorist ‘Robert Coles’
Robert Coles is an eminent child psychiatrist, an author and professor at Harvard University. He works continue to influence the field of modern child psychiatry; and so he remains relevant even today. Coles was born in Boston, Massachusetts in 1929. He grew up here and attended high school at Boston Latin School before being accepted at Harvard College where he studied English Literature. With the influence of William Carlos, Coles took premedical courses at Harvard College before studying medicine at the Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons. Here, he studied pediatrics but switched to child psychiatry later. In 1955, he worked with children suffering from polio in his medical residencies in Mississippi. For his military service, Coles worked with the Air Force in Mississippi as a neuropsychiatric at Keesler Hospital (Basbanes, 1997).
He got married in 1960 to a high school teacher who bore him three sons. He lived in the south till 1965 before going back to Harvard as a teaching fellow. He was later appointed lecturer there and wrote many books and articles during this period. He received the Pulitzer Prize for his works of ‘Children of Crisis’. He lectured at Harvard till and helped establish the Center for Documentary Studies at Duke University in 1981. In recent years, Coles has published and collaborated on a number of books, articles and is the editor of the Double Take Magazine. His latest book is The Secular Mind published by Princeton University Press.
Coles developed a theory of “childhood character formation”. In this theory Cole believes that children gain their character through socialization and not rules and regulations. They observe and ape what people around them do. Adults need to lead by example, apart from the other sources of moral instruction. He talked about moral intelligence in children and how it is acquired through socialization and not rules. In the moral ‘archaeology of childhood’, Coles explains that a child’s sense of moral consciousness is influenced from infancy by the decisions and behaviors of the adults (Coles, 1997).
According to an article in the Cyclopedia of World Authors (1997), Coles developed his theory by drawing on his experiences with children as a teacher, parent and clinician in children’s political, moral and spiritual lives. His experience with adolescents taught him much about the youth culture and how it affects the youth. Films, music, television and peer pressure greatly influences a teenager’s morality. Youth therefore need to be supported and encouraged to make the right choices. He maintains that what an individual grows to be is highly dependant on their upbringing, social environment and examples of parents.
Cole’s theory has been widely accepted; however, it is mainly criticized for being generalistic. He does not take a concrete stand in his theory but seems to go round in circles on certain themes thus evading shedding more light on them. However, to some, his ideas seem outdated (Mullan, 1995).
As a new parent I would highly employ Coles’ theory in my children’s upbringing. Moral development begins at infancy to maturity and so I would be keen on every stage of their moral development. Exposing them to positive a social environment devoid of immorality is a must, as children learn from their environment. Saying no to children when they want the wrong option will go a long way in instilling sense in them and will help them make right choices in future. I will be a role model to them by acting the way I would want them to act; since children learn by observing what adults around them do. In an interview with ‘Psychology Today’ in 1997, Coles insisted that most parents disregard their children’s watchfulness yet this is what moral intelligence is all about.
During their teenage years, I would help them make right choices of their peers and media they are exposed to as these greatly influence their morality. Adolescence is a challenging period that tests the value of their upbringing and leading them to make own judgments and choices. I will therefore be open with them in discussing their moral dilemmas in a responsible and supportive manner. Rules, regulations and advices will go hand in hand. Talking with them about our family history and experiences; and being honest with them on what can go wrong will help them develop moral consciousness in adulthood. Above all, I would ensure I bring them up in the most moral way as this will shape their moral intelligence.
In conclusion, Coles positively contributed to the field of Child Psychiatrics and his works still remain relevant today. His work and theories are useful to psychiatrists and physicians as well as those interested in child behavior and psychology. Teachers, clinicians and those parents who want to raise morally upright children can follow Coles’ works. We are reminded that parents are fully responsible for raising morally upright children since they are their models.
Basbanes, N. A. (1997, Jan 26). Robert coles examines children and developing morality.
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Coles, R. (1997). The moral intelligence of children. New York: Random House.
Mullan, F. (1995, Political booknotes — the mind’s fate: A psychiatrist looks at his profession by
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