Theories of child development, no less than the ways in which children develop, are influenced by social context. This thesis is illustrated by examples drawn three areas relevant to pediatrics. First, given the data demonstrating that fewer biologic and social hazards result from first trimester abortion that from carrying an unwanted pregnancy to term, the current controversy about abortion can only be understood in relation to concerns about contemporary patterns of sexual behavior, contraceptive use, and preferred family size. Second, now that the majority of mothers are employed in the work force, stress on the importance of "bonding" in early infancy, on the basis of dubious evidence, leads to unwarranted implications for social policy. Third, in contrast to the traditional American belief in public schools as instruments for the democratization of our society, public education is now being assailed as useless (and thus undeserving of funding) despite data indicating that schools make a difference to both academic and behavioral outcomes. In these controversies, differing value commitments lead to the choice of different data sets to justify a priori conclusions. Social theories are, by their very nature, value-laden but they can nonetheless be effective guides to action if those values are made explicit.