About a month ago, we took the kids fishing while on a trip to Alabama. We had a wonderful time, but for Fletcher it was also a bit upsetting. I think it was the first time he realized that the fish we eat at dinner are, well, FISH. And he didn’t like it.
He insisted we release the fish, which we did, and I thought that would be the end of it. But it has not ended there. He has now declared himself a full vegetarian, and asks at every meal “Did this come from an animal?”
I’m not going to lie to him. And if he doesn’t want to eat animals . . . well, how can I not respect that?
Until I came across this article, it had not occurred to me that he might be a bit young to make a moral decision like that. My sister is raising her children as vegetarians, and her oldest is quite vocal about not eating animals. But Fletcher came to this decision on his own. And while I have no plans to stop eating meat myself (at least not entirely) and this will probably make my menu planning a little more complicated, I must say I am really proud of my son for taking a moral stand. He’s a pretty cool 5 year old!
HGSE Doctoral Student Karen Hussar’s research examines children aged 6–10 who have become vegetarians. As with Alejandra, for most children Hussar studied, the decision has more to do with morals than with personal choice. This is contrary to the theories of famed psychologists Lawrence Kohlberg and Jean Piaget–both pioneers in moral development–that children aren’t capable of making independent moral decisions at this age.
“It’s exciting to see how relatively autonomous and independently-minded these children are,” says Thomas Professor Paul Harris, who advised Hussar throughout the research. “This means that children are being influenced by other children and going against the tide in their own homes, which are meat-eating homes. We don’t know much about how children make moral decisions at such a young age. I think this is a good pioneering effort.”