Some research was published in the October 2004 issue of Psychological Science that serves to affirm the obvious. Children who have the good fortune to interact with their mothers a lot develop healthier consciences.
The human conscience is part of the likeness to God that is built into us by our Creator. It is an internal monitor for behavior. It approves or disapproves our actions, gives us assurance to proceed or warns us about dangers ahead. But a person's conscience is like a thermostat. Someone has to choose its setting.
In the article cited above, toddlers were encouraged to imitate their mothers in such simple actions as playing tea party or tending to a stuffed animal. The researchers indexed the children in terms of their readiness to imitate what they observed. Then, in subsequent sessions, they evaluated those same young children as they were enticed with prizes for games they could win only by cheating or breaking an object that had some value to them.
Here is how the correlation worked: Toddlers who eagerly imitated their mothers were more likely to follow the rules and more likely to exhibit a sense of guilt when they broke something.
I'm not a psychologist, so I can't offer any meaningful analysis of the experiment or how it was conducted. I'm just an ordinary guy who remembers his mother's influence in his life. Who has watched his own children interact with their mother. And who cringes at some of the undisciplined behavior he sees in kids who seem to feel no guilt or remorse for irresponsible things they do.
Maybe the fact that I didn't want my fourth-grade teacher, Mrs. Whaley, to tell my mother about the words she heard me using on the playground that day is evidence to support what the psychologists have now measured. Maybe all of us who had mothers who invested energy in our moral and spiritual development have thought at times, "I hope my mom never finds out about this!"
The key to an ethical life is to internalize norms of right and wrong that society, school, and church teach. But if there is not an external source to teach and model those norms, how can we ever internalize them? If you are a parent, Cub Scout leader, or Sunday School teacher, what you are saying is important. What you are doing is even more important.
And if you are wrestling with what you regard as a tough ethical dilemma today, it might help you to think about your mother for a few minutes.
I know that you sincerely trust the Lord, for you have the faith of your mother, Eunice, and your grandmother, Lois. ... But you must remain faithful to the things you have been taught. You know they are true, for you know you can trust those who taught you. You have been taught the holy Scriptures from childhood, and they have given you the wisdom to receive the salvation that comes by trusting in Christ Jesus. (2 Timothy 1:5; 2 Timothy 3:14-15)