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Is a child's conscience shaped by their parents or the culture around them, wonders Pat Wills.

One of my favourite books as a child was Tom and the Water Babies. I loved the illustrations and the scary story of the young chimneysweep being sent up chimneys. I seem to remember accepting the divide between rich and poor. Bear in mind, we were still singing the verse, 'The rich man in his castle, the poor man at his gate, God made them high or lowly ...'

The character of Mrs Doasyouwouldbedoneby made a great impression on me. It was the first time I recall having to think what it would be like to be on the receiving end of one of my temper tantrums or of being spiteful or telling tales.

In those days there were many fads that came and went. One of them was about collecting beads in tins. Many an hour was spent doing swaps and agreeing that ten of this was worth one of that. Our next-door neighbour's daughter had beautiful golden curls, went to the Catholic school and had a bead collection to die for.

Sadly, her tea was served early one day and the bead tin was left unattended. At great risk to life and limb, I mounted the railings, tipped over the goodies and beat a hasty retreat. I never did admit what I had done.

So what was it about the usual childhood misdemeanours that enabled me to move on to having a strong ethical sense of right and wrong? My parents were horrified at my lies and ingratitude for their contribution to life's comforts. They tried very hard to instil a sense of right and wrong, often without obvious success.

As an only child in the family for the first nine years of my life, I spent significant amounts of time engrossed in books. Visits to the library were frequent, as were battles with the librarian to convince her that I had read all the books I had taken home.

Mrs Doasyouwouldbedoneby crept into my life. I felt indignant that any grown-up should not believe me when I knew that I was right. Conversely, it did not take a lot to feel ashamed when I lied or was being economical with the truth. Reflecting upon things I had said would worry me incessantly - I was convinced that the next knock on the door would be someone telling my parents what I had said or done.

When I work with children in 2007, I do worry that some have very little sense of the appropriateness of their behaviours, and the consequences. Thank goodness, we no longer celebrate the rich man in his castle, but we do need to think about the poor man at his gate and the ethics of modern society.

Pat Wills is a parenting co-ordinator in Blackpool.

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