Moral Development Theory and Bullying Issues

Despite the intention to provide students with equal opportunities and living conditions, bullying behaviors occur in classrooms and are recognized as a serious social concern. In the United States, about 35% of students are defined as bullies or victims who report cyber victimization, associated with emotional or social problems (Brown et al., 2017). The impact of bullying is not always easy to predict, and moral development is used to identify the principles and moral values according to which adolescents should treat each other. Several theories of moral development can be applied to classrooms, and the role of technology cannot be neglected because social media and new cyber frames determine the quality of communication.

The necessity to distinguish between what is good and what is bad is one of the major aspects of moral development. The adolescent period is characterized by a number of changes and improvements. Young people have to move from dependence on their parents to dependence on or connection to their peers and the establishment of intimate relationships (Zastrow et al., 2019). Benavides (2014) suggests spiritual development as a protective factor in adolescent growth to resist stressful events. However, in many cases, people address moral development theories to support adolescents and promote a better understanding of human needs and expectations. Kohlberg was an author of the theory with three main levels and six stages in terms of which people improve their moral framework. The conventional level includes the needs and perceptions of an individual (self-interest that is externally controlled). The conventional level is based on learning social and legal norms. Finally, the post-conventional level is used to formulate personal decisions in regard to laws and accepted behaviors. The main idea of Kohlberg is to focus on thoughts but not on actions.

The chosen theory of moral development may contribute to analyzing cyberbullying in schools and improving adolescent relationships. Young girls are frequently involved in social media online and share their photos, thoughts, and statuses, which makes them common goals for and victims of bullying (Brown et al., 2017). Boys consider gaming as an available option to develop their skills and choose appropriate behaviors, which becomes a source of negative attitudes and cruel relationships. Bullying prevention results in well-being promoting and the creation of a positive school environment through specific programs (Jenkins et al., 2017). Stage 1 states that adolescents try to avoid punishment, and the idea to bully someone online is a chance to meet their self-oriented goal and avoid punishment face-to-face. At Stage 4 of his theory, Kohlberg explains an act as wrong in case it violates human rights and harms people. Such an understanding of a thought process helps to clarify when moral development has to be improved and why.

Another moral development theory to explain cyberbullying and the impact of communication technology progress was introduced by Gilligan, where the author underlined the importance of personal relationships (not just self-interest). Although this theory was based on women’s moral development, it could improve adolescent growth in the cyber context. This theory contains three positions, including personal needs, others’ needs, and cooperation of needs. It proves that students have to develop their values and morals, and modern social media is one of the best and most effective tools to find information and gather opinions. Cyberbullying is caused by the impossibility of adolescents to understand the power of their words, and Gilligan’s theory specifies the morality of care as a part of human relationships.

In general, both theories are effective for analyzing bullying behaviors within the frames of cyberspace and communication technology. With time, bullying continues changing, and young people find out new ways to achieve their purposes, either good or bad. Gilligan and Kohlberg show how to distinguish between wrong and correct actions, but it is always the responsibility of adolescents to make decisions and promote their well-being.


Benavides, L. E. (2014). The spiritual journey from childhood to adolescence: Pathways to strength and healing. Journal of Religion & Spirituality in Social Work, 33(3/4), 201–217.

Brown, C. F., Demaray, M. K., Tennant, J. E., & Jenkins, L. N. (2017). Cyber victimization in high school: Measurement, overlap with face-to-face victimization, and associations with social-emotional outcomes. School Psychology Review, 46(3), 288–303.

Jenkins, L. N., Demaray, M. K., & Tennant, J. (2017). Social, emotional, and cognitive factors associated with bullying. School Psychology Review, 46(1), 42–64.

Zastrow, C. H., Kirst-Ashman, K. K., & Hessenauer, S. L. (2019). Understanding human behavior and the social environment (11th ed.). Cengage Learning.

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PsychologyWriting. "Moral Development Theory and Bullying Issues." September 20, 2023.