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An In-Depth study of Bronfenbrenner’s Theory of Development

“Development is defined as the person’s evolving conception of the ecological environment, and his relation to it, as well as the person’s capacity to discover, sustain, or alter its properties” Bronfenbrenner’s theory of development, The Ecological (Bio-ecological) Theory, is based on the combination of a child’s biological traits and make-up and the environment that influences the child’s development (Briscoe, Boemmel, 2001).

Bronfenbrenner states that there are two basic environmental conditions necessary for human development: the unconditional love of one or more adults, and the encouragement and participation with the child in activities both in and out of the home environment (Briscoe, Boemmel, 2001). Bronfenbrenner’s theory encompasses 5 “systems” of development (microsystem, mesosystem, exosystem, macrosystem, chronosystem), and can be illustrated by the ripples in water after throwing in a rock.

The rock representing the child and each ripple a “system” flowing into the next, with enough strength and form to keep the effect going as it moves away from the child and into the “big pond”. Bronfenbrenner refers to these ripples as “nests’ with the child being surrounded by layers of individuals and environments that are in turn “nested” in each other. (Briscoe, Boemmel, 2001). The first system, and in my opinion the most important, is the ‘microsystem” that involves the child and his/her direct contact with individuals and environments.

“For children, Microsystems are the places they inhabit, the people who live there with them, and the things they do together”(Gabarino, J. 1982). Examples of common microsystems are home and family, school, peers, and neighborhood. Bronfenbrenner described these influential relationships as bi-directional (The adult affects the child’s behavior but the child’s biological and social characteristics influence the adult’s behaviors) and emphasizes that, although this concept occurs in all levels,” at the microsystem level, bi-directional influences are strongest and have the greatest impact on the child” (Paquette D. Ryan, J.

2001). The microsystem consists of those persons and environments that are directly involved with the child for an extended period of time. As stated earlier I think this is the most important level in Bronfenbrenner’s theory of development. This is where a foundation is laid for the development of a well-adjusted personality encompassing a positive self-image, morals, and values, the knowledge of right and wrong, a strong conscience and healthy cognitive development. Family ties link together our beginning and provide a guide to our future. “Early influences are fundamental to our individual development”(Osmond, A. , Osmond, S. 1999 pg.1)

Belonging and acceptance are essential to human development and needed by everyone. A strong family bond builds a strong sense of belonging and provides the “roots” from which we grow. In the microsystem we are molded and prepared for life experiences and how we react to those experiences. This is the system where morals and values are instilled and taught; these are carried with throughout the rest of our lives. A close family bond provides refuge and safety and instills trust and hope in the people and the world around us.

This is where rituals, traditions and memories are built; where children develop a sense of warmth, safety and structure and begin creating a positive path in life. The absence of a strong family bond lays the foundation for emptiness and loneliness that is often alleviated through harmful and destructive means in the later systems. The child who lacks love looks for ways to fill the hollowness that is left from never knowing the feelings of love, acceptance and appreciation for being. Living in a detached and dysfunctional family is often repeated through generations.

Children come to believe this is the norm and they tend to gravitate towards the dysfunction that they grow up with and mimic it with their children and loved ones. A healthy relationship is foreign to those who have not lived in a close and loving family (Osmond, A. , Osmond, S. 1999). Drug and alcohol abuse often become the learned ways of dealing with behaviors that were experienced during the microsystem years. The most devastating effect is that the child may develop a poor self-image causing them to isolate from peers and hold in anger and pain.

This can negatively affect both physical and emotional well-being, as well as the ability to make positive, healthy choices and develop healthy relationships. It is important to understand that healthy development and nurturing begins before we are born and forms the core of a child’s being. It is the choices of parents, during the microsystem that sets the path that their children will follow (Osmond, A. , Osmond, S. 1999). In most of the delinquent teens I have worked with there is one common thread; according to Brofenbrenner’s theory their microsystem experience was unsatisfactory and unhealthy.

For illustration purposes we will follow “Leah” and “Taylor” through each of Bronfenbrenner’s systems as they grow up. These are real children that I have worked with from their elementary, through their high school years. Leah’s mother abandoned her when she was 2 months old and Leah lived with her father, who was in and out of jail. She was left in unhealthy environments and in the care of unhealthy adults’ Leah did not know her mother, and barely knew her father; as a baby she lived in filthy and roach infested apartments.

She did not go to daycare and was thrust into unhealthy environments with adults who used and dealt drugs; Leah often spent long hours in the car during burglaries, car break-ins and other illegal activities. Much of her time was spent in local crack houses while her dad and his friends smoked crack, drank and passed out. She was left for hours in dirty diapers and was often left in a crib or playpen for hours and days at a time. Leah came to believe that she was a burden, not good at much, and not good for much.

Leah’s microsystem had few, if any, relationships and environments that encouraged a healthy, well-adjusted person. She had no unconditional love, no support system, no encouragement or nurturing, and no one to make sure she was cared for. Leah remembers being scared much of the time, never feeling safe and having no one she could depend on. The absence of a healthy, functioning microsystem kept Leah from successful progression and participation in the next system in the theory, the “mesosystem. ” In contrast consider “Taylor”; from the moment she was born she was embraced and nurtured as a valued member of the family.

Her mother stayed at home with her through her first birthday and she was always well cared for in the absence of her parents. Taylor was surrounded by extended family and friends. She lived in a nice, clean home with her own room, clean bedding and clothes, and everything she needed to ensure her health and happiness. Taylor began attending pre-school at the local church where she remained through kindergarten and developed relationships with those caregivers in a nurturing, encouraging environment.

Taylor’s microsystem is based on healthy family relationships, nurturing and encouraging parents, grandparents and relatives. Taylor was involved in many activities and introduced to a variety of healthy experiences and environments, thus providing a strong foundation for her “mesosystem” development. The mesosystem is the relationships between microsystems. The mesosystem consists of the interconnections among all of the face-to-face settings experienced in the microsystem, such as in the person’s home, neighborhood, and school (Terry, M. 2006).

To experience the optimum benefits for development the child must live within an environment in which there are many “mesosystem connections,” such as parental involvement in school and church functions, multiple child and sibling social contacts within the neighborhood, etc. In contrast, the child’s environment that has few mesosystem connections will consist of problems that negatively impact the child’s quality of life, such as parents’ complaints about school and the child’s teacher, dislike of neighbors expressed in suspicion and distrust, and few neighborhood peer relationships (Urquiza A, J.

Winn, 1994). This is the system of development where the world becomes a function of who a person is, has been, and plans on being; what he/she does, has done, and plans on doing; and with whom he/she interacts, has interacted, and plans on interacting. “Framing these experiences within an ecological paradigm underscores the interrelatedness of people and their physical, emotional, and cognitive behaviors as they occur in relationship specific environmental contexts” (Terry, M.

2006) This system moves away from direct interactions with the child and focuses on the interrelationship between those people surrounding the child, those environments surrounding the child and the interactions among them. Parents, caregivers, teachers etc need to work together for the best interests of the child. Dissention between these relationships and environments can severely hinder the child’s ability to adapt and grow in specific life areas. Leah attended pre-kindergarten when her caregivers felt like getting her ready and on the bus. Often no one was at the bus stop to wait with her or pick her up after school.

She loved school and looked forward to it but soon learned that this was a burden that caused upheaval in her family. When the school inquired as to Leah’s many absences their concern was met with anger and uncooperativeness. The school inquiries only made Leah’s father/caregivers mad at her. Leah brought home correspondence, notes and invitations to school functions but they went ignored. Leah’s desk stood empty during open houses and her hard work went unnoticed. She began feeling unsuccessful in school and her positive experience became a negative one.

The teacher’s gave up trying to engage Leah’s parents but found it necessary to intercede on her behalf, thus a new relationship formed, that of the Department of Children and Families with Leah and her father. Leah’s father welcomed the help but to get it he had to admit his deficiencies as a parent. “By working from this deficit model, families are expected to hold their hands up from deep inside a black hole of helplessness. Then, they are expected to have the psychological strength to climb up the thin rope they are offered” (Paquette D.

Ryan J, 2001)Leah’s father was extremely angry with this intrusion and blamed the school and Leah. The caseworker tried to assist with in-home services but Leah ended up in foster care due to her father’s inability to provide a safe environment and his refusal to comply. Leah’s mother and grandmother remained inactive in her life at a time when she needed them so much. Leah’s behavior plummeted and she found herself bounced between families; never benefiting from these relationships. Leah’s acting out, inability to get along with peers and refusal to cooperate at school paved the way for her exosystem experience.

Taylor’s experience was much different. Her parents and her pre-school teachers worked together to make sure she benefited from this experience. Taylor’s mother became friends with her teachers and they in turn assisted with planning her future. Taylor attended a private school. Her parents always attended open house, Parent-teacher conferences and other school functions. Her parents helped her with homework and projects and involved her in sports and extra-curricular activities offered as a part of her education.

Taylor’s grandparent’s, extended family and friends never missed a school function and supported her in all aspects of her education. Enmeshed in the school experience were religion, church and her church family. Taylor was active in a local and national dance troupe with her mother participating in all of the meetings, being a stage mother at “The Nutcracker” and her family and extended family never missing a performance; lending support and volunteering. Taylor’s parents both worked so she never felt poverty or need. She has a brother with whom she has a healthy, strong sibling relationship.

Taylor’s family, school, church, extended family, dance family, and friendships all worked together to form healthy relationships, environments and experiences from which Taylor can draw positive life experiences. She has developed a positive sense of self, a love of school and the ability to work through problems in positive, healthy ways, thus providing a much different preparation for the exosystem experience than Leah’s ( Bronfenbrenner, U. 1979). The exosystem encompasses interactions in which the child does not actually participate.

The developing person is impacted by these interactions but not as immediately as those in the micro and meso systems. The aspects of the exosystem can have a huge effect on the developing child; with the child having no control over the situations. Exosystems refer to interactions with neighbors (not part of the individual’s peer group), government, business, social service, mass media, and other organizations (Garzon , 2009). Leah’s father spent most of her teen years in jail leaving her to fend for herself. As a result she was dependent on government programs and foster families for her care.

This caused disruption in her school and home life as she drifted between neighborhoods and schools. Being in a state of constant change affected her ability to trust, to have a constant of care and to feel “settled”. When Leah returned to live with her father she lived in poverty as her father’s criminal record kept him from finding a good job. He worked long hours and was unable to care for Leah after school. She was left to fend for herself and started hanging out late into the night with older guys and getting into trouble. Her father’s problems and lifestyle disrupted the household making it an unhappy and unhealthy place for Leah.

In contrast Taylor’s parents both worked in places that were “family friendly” and allowed for her to be cared for when she was sick or unable to attend school. Her family’s relationship with the church added another dimension of support and opportunity to her life. The majority of those settings in Taylor’s exosystem added to her quality of life. The macrosystem consists of things that influence and sometimes support the child within the environment such as norms, attitudes and ideologies of the culture in which the individual is embedded.

(Briscoe, Boemmel, 2000). The state of the economy, lack of jobs, and poverty level are on the increase which has an overall effect on today’s children. Both Taylor and Leah are impacted by these things as Leah struggles to find a job to survive and as Taylor goes off to college. The wide reaching affects of the changing macro and chrono systems are yet to be seen in the lives of Leah and Taylor as they make their way into the workforce and learn to deal with the ever-changing economy and global elements with which they are faced.

Today’s children are threatened by the hectic pace of life, poverty and unemployment. Our children are being deprived of their rights to virtues such as honesty, responsibility, integrity and compassion. This breakdown is seen in the growing rates of alienation, apathy, rebellion, delinquency and violence in American youth. Yet, Bronfenbrenner believes it is still possible to avoid this fate if families will make the sacrifices and the investments necessary to build strong family bonds and support systems.

Taylor and Leah had very different “system” experiences causing each to go in different directions that will have overall lasting effects on their lives. Leah finds herself in a daily struggle to make it through life, has little trust in herself or her abilities, does not trust others and has a negative outlook on life in general. Taylor has a zest for life and is excited about her future and as she goes to college and anticipates a career in communications and a life in New York City. She loves herself, trusts in her abilities and is excited about her future.

My experiences through the various systems in Brofenbrenner’s theory adequately prepared me for a positive life experience. My microsystem was filled with a loving family and support system and set up a strong foundation and core personality for my later years. My parents were always involved in all aspects of my life through my school years and I was introduced to extracurricular activities, the church, dance and other things that added to my quality of life and my ability to adapt and thrive in my ventures.

I loved school and it never occurred to me to quit or not to go on to college. These were the guidelines that I lived with throughout my childhood and into adulthood, quitting was not an option. I was encouraged to be all that I can be and to follow my dreams. My experiences gave me the drive and the knowledge to know what I needed to do to be successful in my life. Unfortunately, today’s economy and downward spiral in housing and jobs has greatly impacted my plans for my future; while providing the opportunity to return to school.

The changing macro and chrono systems have “forced” me to take the next step in order to survive and for me the next step is getting my Master’s Degree and perhaps going even further in obtaining my credentials. I realize, after doing this research, how important my strong microsystem contributed to the choices, decisions and the way I feel about myself.

The impact goes way beyond me to my parenting, the morals and values I have instilled in my daughter and the impact I have had on her growth and development. Strong family bonds help us to thrive in all aspects of life (Osmond, A. , Osmond, S. 1999). Lack of these bonds can lead to forever seeking that something which is missing. The value of strong family bonds cannot be taken for granted. They are the base for molding beautiful, healthy and successful children for today and for generations to come. (P Kathy) Briscoe, Boemmel, J. J. (2001, May 09). Web quest project theory fact sheet of uri brofenbrenner. Retrieved from http://pt3. nl. edu/boemmelbriscoewebquest. pdf Gabarino, J. (1982).

Children and families in the social environment [2nd edition, 1992]. (Adobe reader 9. 3), Retrieved from http://online. sagepub. com doi: ISBN13: 9780202360799 Paquette D. Ryan, J. (2001, July 12). Bronfenbrenner’s ecological systems theory. Retrieved from pt3. nl. edu/paquetteryanwebquest. pdf · Urie Bronfenbrenner.? (1979). The Ecology of Human Development: Experiments by Nature and Design. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press. ISBN 0-674-22457-4 Garzon , G. D,. (2009). Theory of social economy. Social Science Computer Review, Retrieved from http://faculty. chass. ncsu. edu/garson/PA765/socialecology. htm Osmond, A. (1999). Family values: the importance of strong family bonds.

Retrieved from http://www. thefamily. com/ Terry, M. (2006, August 22). The Ecological paradigm. Retrieved from http://literacy. kent. edu/cra/2006/mterry/printable. html Urquiza A, J. Winn, C. (1994). Treatment for abused and neglected children: infancy to age 18. U. S. Department of Health and Human Services, Retrieved from http://www. childwelfare. gov/pubs/usermanuals/treatmen/treatmenb. cfm D, Kathy. (n. d. ). Family values the importance of strong family bonds. Retrieved from http://www. helium. com/items/629105-family-values-the-importance-of-strong-family-bonds

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