Bronfenbrenner’s Theory in Action

Bronfenbrenner’s Theory of Human Development In Human Development Psychology, there are different theories on how an individual grows and develops. One of the most well-known theories is the Ecological Theory of Urie Bronfenbrenner. Urie Bronfenbrenner (1917-2005) is today credited and known in the psychology development field for the development of the ecological systems theory. The theory explains the way everything in a child and their environment affects the child development.

It emphasises the importance of the relationships between the social contexts in which the child lives and the people who influence their development (Paquette & Ryan, 2001). In early childhood, a child’s development is influenced by various factors, thus Bronfenbenner’s Ecological Theory shows how a child grows and matures. There are four different levels that influence a child to develop in life as a person as shown in Fig 1. The first level begins with the child and their immediate environment than move on to larger environment, showing that the immediate and the outside are as important in the development of a child.

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The first level is the microsystem (immediate environment that a child lives or contacts such as parents, teachers and neighbours), then mesosystem (linkage between microsystems) such as connections between family and school, thirdly the exosystem (environment in which a child is not involved, such as parents workplace) and the fourth level is the macrosystem (involve the society, cultures and government). According to Bronfenbenner family plays the most crucial part in the development of a child’s abilities.

A family influence a child’s resilience to adversities and also provides different levels of risk factors as family functioning changes (Oswalt, 2008). The Microsystem is the smallest setting in which the, child spends considerable time. It is made up of the immediate environment where the child lives and moves. The people and the institutions the child directly interacts with, have the most immediate and direct impact on a child’s development in the microsystem such as immediate family members, childcare, school teachers, peers, religious institutions and health groups may be part of the system.

The child is not a passive recipient of experience, he or she is someone who reciprocally interacts with others and helps to construct the microsystem as illustrated in fig1. Much of a child’s behaviour is learned in the microsystem, though other more distant systems will have an increased influence as the child ages (Garbarino, 2009, p. 71-98). In the microsystem, when a child is born, he or she is taken care of by either the mother or a nanny. These individual’s will have a very big role in shaping the child’s characteristics.

If the child spends most of the time with the mother, he or she acquires the character traits of the mother. Children whose parents are both working, where child is always accompanied by the nanny, the child will most likely acquire character traits of the nanny. Neighbours and friends in school are also a big factor in this system. As the child goes to school, he or she will encounter a new environment where a child acquires a new characteristic from classmates and friends in school.

When the child interacts with other children, they will be influenced in many different ways which maybe positive or negative. This trend continues as the child grows older and matures (Paquette&Ryan, 2001). I was born in a two-parent family structure where my father was the one working outside while my mother remained home to look after the kids. My mother came from a very traditional family who always emphasised on family and education, while being very protective of me. From birth to age of six, as I may remember, I was not allowed to go anywhere without telling my mother.

As my father was always working late, I spent very little time with him and became more attached to my mother. She was always there for me as I was there for her. All this attachment and protectiveness from my mother has acted as a protective factor for me to be resilient in times of peer pressure into doing negative things. I have developed a sense that families and education are more important in life and up till now at the age of 17, I don’t go anywhere without telling my mother. The Mesosytem, the next layer within Bronferbrenner’s model, involves linkages between microsystems.

It relates to the interactions between the people in the microsystem. The child is not directly involved with the mesosystems though he or she is affected by them. This system describes how the different parts of a child’s microsystem works together for the sake of the child. As reported by Australian Institute of Family Studies (Wise,2003) ,that if the child’s parents take an active role in a child’s school, such as going to parent-teacher conference and attending their child’s sports day, they will help child’s development positively.

If the parents fight or have disagreements over how to raise a child, the child may get conflicting ideas and be negatively influenced and may not perform well in school or in life. A connection between family and peer is also considered an important mesosystem. Family values and traditions about drugs, sex and alcohol can be challenged or encouraged by the images portrayed by the peers. An individual can have a negative effect if he or she comes from a family which neglects the child or remain positive if he or she comes from a family which gives regards to good values and good decision making skills (Paquette & Ryan, 2001).

Since my father’s work commitment was such that he didn’t spend much time with me as I was growing, I have not developed a sense of attachment to him. Even today at the age of 17 I go through my mother to ask my father for any favours. As my family was not much into religion, my parents were humiliated by our priest in-front of hundreds of people for not teaching certain prayers to me at the age of eight. This incident has put a certain friction in my heart towards religious leaders, and priest which I carry even today.

Exosystem are settings that have an effect on the development of the child, but in which the child do not play a direct role. This system leaves a great impact on a child’s development. For most individuals, the key exosystem include their parents work place and the organisations such as school boards, church groups, social service agencies and planning commissions that make decisions affecting the child’s day to day life. The idea of the exosystem involves both risks and opportunities.

An example of the exosystem on an individual according to Oswalt (2008) is that, if a child’s parent gets laid off from work, that may have negative effects on the child if his/her parents are unable to pay rent or buy groceries, however if his/her parent receives promotion and a wage increase, it may have a positive effect on the child because the parents will be able to meet their needs and wants. The way risk and opportunities flow from the exosystem lies in the orientation and content of the decisions made in those settings or environments that affect the day to day experience of the child and his or her families (Wise, 2003).

When I was twelve years old my father’s employers decided to shift the operations of the company to a different town. In order to keep the job my father decided to move to the new location, taking all of us with him. Whole family was under stress, I had to adjust to new school, make new friends, and withstand bullying due to being new in class. All this changes helped me to develop my adaptation skills to new situations without much difficulty today. Bronfenbrenner’s final system is the macrosystem; this is the largest and most remote set of things that influence and sometimes supports the child within the environment.

The macrosystem includes things such as the cultural values, governments, religions, ideologies and norms of the society (Oswalt2008). According to Paquatte and Ryan (2001) macrosystem has a wave like effect throughout the interactions of all other layers. The aspects of macrosystem are passed on from one generation to the next. In some societies women are not allowed to go out for education or work, this has a great impact on a child’s development. It will have a very negative effect on a child affecting the way he values or treats women.

The priority the macrosystem gives to the needs of children and adults affects the support a child receives at the inner levels or systems. For example, in Australia where high standards of childcare and workplace benefit for parents the child is more likely to have favourable experiences in his/her immediate environment, then countries like Zimbabwe where conditions are appalling (AIHW,2002). The major effect of the macrosystem on me was when I was 14 years old.

That event was the military coup in my home country, with the military government bringing out policy that people of certain background being not allowed to own land or hold government positions. As I was of that particular ethic group, it affected me and my family. Thus my parents decided to move to a country where we had freedom in everything, so here I am in Australia. Family is the dynamic source of influence on a child’s development. Many factors interact to determine the impact of the family on child’s development. Parenting style and families structure has a major impact on a child.

Parental divorce, poor parental care and financial strain are some of the risk factors which affect child’s development negatively. Protective factors such as warmth, closeness from an adult family member in times of difficult situations helps a positive development thus developing resilience in children. A resilient child can have the capacity to adapt to or overcome any difficult situation in life. This resilience can be displayed through positive thinking, goal-orientation and persistence (Harms, 2005). After discussing on the topic, we can say that every child develops at his or her own pace.

Through Bronfenbrenner’s approach, we can understand that development occurs within a reciprocal system or give and take relationship between the child and his or her environment. Bronfenbrenner explains four environment systems that influences or is influenced by the developing child. A child’s social and cultural beliefs are influenced by their parent’s cultural beliefs, norms of the society they live in and by the culture of the local community. Political, economic change and global events such as military coups, and employment schedules has an effect on a child’s development either directly or indirectly.

Importance of family is also realised in the development of a child. Structure of the family such as 2 parent and a single parent, positive and negative effects. Risk factors such as peer pressure, social or cultural discrimination and poverty always try to have an adverse effect on child development. Families help a child to become resilient or form a resilience characteristic of adapting or coping successfully in the presence of risks and adversities by providing protective factors.

I agree that all relationships are bi-directional, that is adults affect child’s behaviour and child affects adults behaviour, for example a friendly attentive child gets positive and patient reactions from adults, while a distractible child is likely to get punishments and restrictions. This I can say through my experience with my mother’s attitude towards me and my brother. I have now realised how Bronferbrenner’s Ecological Theory, each interacting system, bi-directional relationships and environment has affected or influenced my life up till now.

References Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW) 2002, Child Protection Australia 2000-2001, Child Welfare Series, Cat. No. CWS16, AIHW, Canberra, viewed 12 May 2011, http://aihw. gov. au/publication-detail/? id=6442467327 Garbarino, J 2009, Children and Families in the Social Environment, 2nd edition, Walter de Gruyter Inc. , New York. Harms, L 2005, Understanding human development, Oxford University Press, South Melbourne. Oswalt, A 2008, Urie Bronfenbrenner and child development, mental help. net, January 2008, viewed 12 May 2011, http://www. entalhelp. net/poc/view_doc. php? type=doc&id=7930&cn=28 Paquette, D & Ryan, J 2001, Bronfenbrenner’s ecological systems theory, National-Louis University, viewed 12 May 2011, http://pt3. nl. edu/paquetteryanwebquest. pdf Wise, S 2003, Australian Institute of Family Studies, Family structure, child outcomes and environmental mediators: an overview of the Development in Diverse Family Study,2008 research paper no. 30, Australian Institute of Family Studies, Canberra, viewed 12 May 2011, http://www. aifs. gov. au/institute/pubs/RP 30. pdf



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