In Rules We Trust

Value of a Rule Children make up rules for games they create with their peers and the idea of justice is incredibly important to children. Although they are unable to describe justice as an abstract idea, they are quick to point out when somebody has wronged them - and just as quick to demand something be done about it! When a group of children agree on a rule, enforcing that rule can become an incredibly important contest.

For example, one child will claim that another child did something that broke a rule. The child will demand justice be done while the other child might declare unfairness. This happens when the children value the broken rule because they expect that rule to be enforced. The value of a rule is, in this case, equal to the trust in that rule’s correctional enforcement.

In this article, we’ll be looking at how the value of a rule is applied with the following definitions:

Value of a Rule = Trust in Correctional Enforcement


Decrease in Trust in Correctional Enforcement = Decrease Value of a Rule

Belief in the Value of a Rule

Rules exist as statements of expected behaviors - Do and Do Not. The value of rules exist in the compliance of those rules. A belief in the value of a rule depends on the quantity and quality of compliance of those rules. To consider the quality and quantity of compliance from those subject to those rules must also consider the development of bias, circumstance, and purposeful manipulation of those rules. A range of value toward a rule is assigned through observations, experiences, and considerations. Therefore, a person’s belief in the value of a particular rule is rarely as simple as a decision of ‘do’ or ‘not do’. In fact, a belief is required to fluctuate, shift, and adapt in order to survive changing environments and develop circumstantial exceptions. It is this understanding behind a person’s belief in the value of a rule that can be lost if not intentionally developed with this understanding in mind.

Rules and Consequences

Children may come to believe that, without enforcement, a rule has no value. I’ve had conversations about this with my students over the years (upper-elementary and middle school). The general student consensus is that rules need to be followed in order to avoid “getting in trouble”. When I would bring up what would happen when rules aren’t followed, students are quick to offer a list of consequences they’ve observed or experienced. None of the consequences seem to associate with any rationale for why the rules exist in the first place. In fact, student input typically highlights a belief about why rules exist in relation to their own personal and social wants and needs. It seems to me as though their list of consequences symbolize a developed belief that outsources the responsibility of enforcing rules in order to satisfy what they want separate from what they may know the need (e.g. order and structure).

This affects students when they observe rules being broken within a circumstance that does not result in consequence. The circumstances may be misconstrued or misunderstood by students but will nonetheless affect how students value certain rules. When students than experience the same rules enforced, it can be no surprise that their frustration is directed toward the person enforcing rules they may no longer value.