Child Development in Negative Socio-Economic Situations, Term Paper Example

It is often said, and with great merit, that the most important years in a persons’ lifespan with regards to overall development occurs during the malleable years of childhood. A child is not only extremely impressionable and likely to replicate behaviors they see as normal or acceptable, but can be taught be nature to perpetuate these antisocial behaviors way past an age where a normal range of fluctuation is expected. When a child who has had a significant amount of trauma in their childhood, especially with reference to social (including racial status), economic, or emotional factors, negative results often ensue, and can carry these behaviors into later life situations–proving without a doubt that nurture is extremely important when considering child development and antisocial behavior during and after development.

Using Erik Erikson’s model of child development, between year one and year three a child develops their ability to want to try new things as a whole. Either emerging confident or withdrawn, this stage in development directly depends on the next stage, known as “initiative versus guilt”, and occurring between ages three and six. These two stages in particular are very important for interpersonal development as a whole (Oswalt, 2013).

The key is that how the child develops, whether receptive to trying to new things, or withdrawn overall, is extremely indicative of the direction the child receives. The “initiative versus guilt” stage is truly nothing more than an extension of the stage before it. With proper direction, at the ages of three to six a child should develop what is commonly known as a “child’s curiosity”, as well as the extent to which a child can interact with his or her peers. If this stage in development becomes misguided from the perspective of the parents of the teachers, a child can grow no sense of self-esteem at all, and thus harming their overall chances at any interpersonal relationships as they continue to grow older, and into more complex stages of development overall (Oswalt, 2013).

The ages between one and six are the most important from a developmental standpoint for a few key reasons. Because these are the ages that lay the foundation for a child’s development both socially and intellectually, children exposed to negative environments at these ages can have long-term consequences, including antisocial behaviors, an inability to interact with others, as well as a clear stunting of the specific intellectual areas of creativity, abstraction, as well as symbolism. Again, this directly correlates to the next developmental stage set forth by Erikson, called “industry versus inferiority” (Oswalt, 2013).

Industry versus inferiority, which occurs between ages six and eleven, has to do with self-esteem directly. Where the child is becoming more developmentally complex, as are the possible problems that can incur. These years are very important with regards to the amount of confidence a child will have–with their peers, and with authority figures. In addition, development in this period is truly the first time a child can separate social situations–whether it be with peers, at a home environment, or in school as at whole (Oswalt, 2013). There are many consequences of being developmentally deficient by this stage in Erikson’s model. The aforementioned continuations of antisocial behaviors are truly illustrated in this developmental phase.

The ability to separate social situations from one another creates an entire new dimension as far as development goes. Very often parents end up “surprised” at the bad actions of their seemingly perfect children. This directly correlates with the ability to differentiate social situations, because it is here that manipulation can be developed. A child can develop skills to adapt to different social situations, and respond accordingly. This is meant in both a positive and negative connotation–a child with a disturbed development simply may not possess the skills to understand the differences in social situations. On the other hand, a child can also become hyper-aware of this ability, and begin to use it for their benefit. A certain amount of this is expected, although to an extreme is not healthy either.

Although the model of Erik Erikson is old, it does apply today. In the article “Child Psychiatric Disorders”, the major factors of how a child can develop a psychiatric disorder correlate in many ways. The article names environmental factors as just as important as constitutional ones, or genetic and hereditary. In fact, the article goes one step further, and names the family life, school life, as well as the overall “community” as the direct environmental factors that have the largest impact of child development (Child Psychiatric Disorders, 2011).

Although Freud’s psychosexual model no longer holds much merit, it is still relevant to call on his concepts of id, ego, and superego with regards to development and especially development in lower socio-economic classes. Freud stated that all humans, from the time they are born, are instilled with selfish and carnal unconscious wants, which he called the id. A child eventually comes to terms with what is actually realistic, versus their selfish wants. This is called the sense of ego. Further along the developmental path, a child begins to take on the values of their own parents, which he called the superego.

Returning to “Child Psychiatric Disorders” now considering Freud’s model, even more regarding a child’s socio-economic situation with regards to development comes to light. The article lists some very relevant factors that contribute to the development of a psychiatric disorder in a child. The article cites marital problems, children with divorced parents, as well as children placed in a daycare as generally more susceptible to developing a psychiatric disorder. This is a direct play on the id a child develops–their sense of egotism can be released, or become imbalanced, as Freud would say, thus laying the foundation for an unhealthy psychological development. The child in these situations can feel neglected, and therefore become selfish as a natural reaction (Child Psychiatric Disorders, 2011).

The same article cites “parental deviance” as a major factor in the development of psychiatric disorders in children. This, again, can be applied to Freud’s model of id, ego, and superego to very effective results. Though the article narrows down “parental deviance” to just previous mental health problems in the mother, as well as the criminal record of the father, this can certainly be expounded upon. While a child is developing his sense of superego, or taking on the values of their own parents, this concept of “parental deviance” is very important indeed. If a child was brought up in an environment where antisocial behavior is either empirically shown, or, by and large encouraged, which is sometimes the case, the development of the superego can be tainted–and thus parents that present with antisocial behavior create children that turn out to be just as antisocial (Child Psychiatric Disorders, 2011).

Other major contributors to mental illnesses among developing children that can be tied to Freud are social and economic factors. “Child Psychiatric Disorders” names large family sizes, as well as children with fathers in unskilled occupations, as important factors in the development of mental illnesses (Child Psychiatric Disorders, 2011). Larger families, as well as unskilled labor, are two things generally attributed to a lower class, or economically strained, family. This can be damaging with regards to both Freud’s ego and superego. On one hand, the ego, which is supposed to be the healthy and realistic balance that one attains, can be damaged by self-attributed traits that go along with their socioeconomic status, such as the lack of a belief in social mobility. This lack of a true belief in social mobility can greatly affect the balance of how a child grows up viewing their own perceived realistic goals. This directly correlates with an imbalance in the superego. When children unconsciously take the traits of their parents, they may be unconsciously setting themselves back by not realizing their full potential, directly linked to development by Erikson’s model as well.

In 1975 sociologist Hollingshead revised his previous model to an updated “Four Factor Index of Social Position” used to do exactly what the title indicates. These individual socioeconomic factors are very important when taking the larger picture of development into consideration. In Hollingshead’s revised model of his own work, he named occupation, education, marital status, and gender as the four main factors that determine socioeconomic status (Gottfried, 1987).

Hollingshead’s model can be directly applicable to a child’s development. If nurture is indeed the thesis of this paper, it is important to consider the four-pronged model Hollingshead put forth with regards to the parents of the child. It has been proven thus far that the parents and other authority figures have a direct result on child development with two different models. All four of the main factors Hollingshead put forth–occupation, education, marital status, as well as gender–can define the socioeconomic status of the parents, and by applying Freud’s superego, can affect the development of their children (Gottfried, 1987).

Returning again to “Child Psychiatric Disorders”, this article even further proves the correlations made. Again, the article names large family sizes, children with fathers in unskilled occupations, previous mental health problems in the mother, as well as the criminal record of the father as important precursors to psychiatric problems in children (Child Psychiatric Disorders, 2011). Every single one of those precursors fall right into Hollingshead’s model of discerning socioeconomic status–occupation, education, marital status, and gender (Gottfried, 1987). This connection is truly vital to understanding socioeconomic situations and child development as a whole. Now, direct examples and applications can be given to further prove this idea.

On one hand, there is Child X–male, white, and from a wealthy family. He is enrolled in private schools where education is valued, his parents are happily married, and both successful professionals. His social skills are enhanced by his safe, and well-funded, neighborhood park and recreation system. He progresses on to another private high school eventually, again, well-funded and with high standards. His social skills proliferate through school-based functions.

Now consider Child Z. She is white, and lives in a poor neighborhood, in an urban setting. Her father left her and her mother when she was very young, and she attended an underfunded public school system. Her social skills are learned by a chaotic home and school environment–she has none of the normal recreational activities that Child X can take advantage of, because even allowing her to play outside is hazardous. This is how she grows up, and watches others around her grow up on a daily basis, most never escaping their impoverished situations.

The last child will be Child Y. First, imagine Child X and all his advantages in life. Now picture his life if he was black.

The fields of psychology and sociology in particular are in the minority where making generalizations is necessary to support research. Of course, there are plenty of instances where Child X ends up with a cocaine habit, living off his wealthy parents to support his habit. However, when considering Hollingshead’s model, as well as the works of both Erikson and Freud, it is a relatively safe assumption to make that Child X will be successful–some of course to his own merit, but much to do with the social and economic benefits he was born into.

Child Z is also very important in the general scope of this hypothetical. Again, there are plenty of people like fashion designer Damon John who have risen up out of destitute situations and controlled their own destiny. Again, for the psychological and sociological aspects, a safe generalization can be made that he is not the norm. Most born into these situations unfortunately never escape them, living a life of poverty. Again, applying Freud and Erikson, this vicious cycle is perpetuated during development during childhood.

Child Y is clearly the most interesting hypothetical for a child–purposefully placed to foil both of the other children. Had an African American been used as Child Z, the social and economic implications could not be explored. That is the inherent problem with regards to Child Z–her economic status, as well as her home life. She was crafted as the exact opposite of Child X. Child Y, given the exact same advantages as X, generally will make less money than white contemporaries, incur some kind of blatantly racist event over the course of his childhood, as well as his further isolation as a minority in the upper class. Our current President is an example of what happens when Child Y sees the injustices, and works that much harder to overcome them.

However, this is clearly not always the case. It is very likely, and it can be seen to this day, that Child Y would have seen the injustices in front of his face, and became bitter. He may feel isolated for being an African American in the upper-class, and struggle to find a sense of identity. This is a very real hypothetical–applying any model of development, it is clear that there will be some stunting of social growth, which can end up in a very different place than Child X, though afforded the same exact economic benefits.

This isolation that can be so frequently experienced in negative socio-economic situations, referred to so frequently during the course of this paper, has a direct correlation to the development of psychiatric disorders. According to a 1979 article published in the International Journal of Psychiatric Medicine, an acute feeling of isolation can take away from a child’s ability to individually define themselves without fear of being chastised. This development of one’s own identity, occurring in the latter years of development, would also be the same time in one’s life that they would be becoming acutely aware of their negative socioeconomic condition, furthering isolation (Adler, 1979).

As a whole, and for many reasons both internal and external, children who are forced to grow up in negative socioeconomic situations not only generally have a harder time moving through the stages of development, but are more likely to present with their own psychiatric symptoms later in life due to the interruption and detriment to a full development.


“Aloneness and Borderline Psychopathology: The Possible Relevance of Child Development Issues.” National Center for Biotechnology Information. U.S. National Library of Medicine, n.d. Web. 01 June 2013. <>.

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Gottfried, Allen W. “Measures of Socioeconomic Status in Child Development Research:  Data and Recommendations.” Merrill-Palmer Quarterly, n.d. Web.   <         =4581319437&uid=2&uid=70&uid=3&uid=4581319427&uid=60&sid=2110235 2024317>.

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Papalia, D.E. & Feldman, R.D. (2010). A Child’s World: Infancy through Adolescence (12th ed.). New Jersey: McGraw Hill.