Decision Making by Children

Psychological Risks and Benefits
  • Gary B. Melton
Part of the Critical Issues in Social Justice book series (CISJ)


As noted throughout this volume, the concept of competence to consent has obvious psychological dimensions. Psychologists presumably can inform the law (or at least potentially can inform the law) about children’s capacity to weigh risks and benefits and to make “mature” decisions in various situations. Underlying the reason why there is interest in such developmental research are other less frequently discussed psychological concerns, which are the subject of this chapter. Specifically, a primary justification for denying children the power of consent is that they will be harmed by the consequences of making bad decisions.2. According to such a theory, self-determination rights are denied incompetent minors because of the state’s duty as parens patriae to protect dependent persons from harm.3 Hence, competence becomes an issue as a corollary to the assumption of harm, including psychological harm, resulting from allowing minors to make decisions if they are incompetent to do so. It is not incompetence per se that laws restricting children’s power of consent are designed to avoid. Rather, the purpose is to enhance children’s welfare or at least to minimize harm.


Moral Development Civil Liberty Apply Behavior Analysis Parental Authority Fourteenth Amendment 
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Copyright information

© Plenum Press, New York 1983

Authors and Affiliations

  • Gary B. Melton
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of PsychologyUniversity of NebraskaLincolnUSA

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