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Urie Bronfenbrenner (1917–2005), Research Paper Example

Pages: 7

Words: 1983

Research Paper

The stages of human development were first discussed by Freud (1962, 1905). His five stage theory was developed around the natural drives of human beings from birth until puberty. Freud believed that these stages developed naturally and although they may have had some relationship to external stimuli, they appeared in every child regardless of gender or social condition.  Erikson followed Freud in his theories of stage development, expanding beyond Freud, first by having eight stages and later in life, developing his final ninth stage. While Freud believed that developmental stages came naturally regardless of external influence, Erikson was a social theorist (Erikson, 1993, 1950).  Erikson’s theories resembled those of Bronfenbrenner (1979), although there were still differences.Erickson recognized that children were influenced by their parents, and others, who they would believe fell into care-giving or loving modes. Bronfenbrenner (1979) picked up on some of Erickson’s theory, but developed additional theories to include environmental issues instead of just human needs.

Since researchers have no direct method of observing a person’s mind in action, they observe the behavior of the person. Bronfenbrenner (1979) noted the correlation between environmental elements and behaviors. The response of an individual to a stimulus can be observed.  Theoristscan observe how individuals learn from an incident, and how human behavior may change with the repetition of similar incidents. Pavlov (1927) called this classical conditioning; an input represented the external stimulus, and an output, was the resulting behavior. The behavior is associated with the environmental event, and when a similar event occurs the response is recalled and replayed. In Bronfenbrenner’s (1979) bioecological system, it is the richness of the environment in the microsystem that is important to the development of the child. The mother-child, father-child, and father-mother pairs (or dyads per Bronfenbrenner), being the basis of the early microsystem, can be seen as being most influential at that stage. These two person systems are bi-directional in nature; both parties develop together (Bronfenbrenner, 1979). Much of a child’s behavior is learned in the microsystem, though as the child ages, the other, more distant, systems have increasing influence. Internal systems also have an effect on behavior. The emotional system and the biology of the child are two internal forces that can have significant influence on behavior. Any parent can verify that illness temporarily modifies a child’s behavior. Protracted illness or a physiological abnormality can be underlying causes for more lasting behavioral issues. Similar behavioral variations can come from emotional causes such as stress, depression, and grief. As the cognitive system develops, it can have an offsetting influence versus emotional and even biological factors. The more mature child will be able to apply social rules and mores to the behavioral influences of emotion and learn to compensate for and even appreciate biological differences as the cognitive system develops.

Bronfenbrenner’s Ecological Systems Theory (1979), states that childhood development does not exist in a vacuum. The human development process is a result of those surroundings in which we live. Bronfenbrenner carries the process to a more ecological model than do other researchers (Erikson, 1993; Pavlov, 1927) who claim that we develop as we do because of social models. Recently, Berk (2000) renamed Bronfenbrenner’s theory the bioecological theory. In Erikson’s social theory (1993), the thinking was always that humans existed in a social vacuum. This social existence was simply based on human relations theory. Bronfenbrenner theory exists on the notion that humans don’t have simply social existences. Instead, human lives have biological components. Following this difference of logic, in studying social existences it could be said that two children growing up in different parts of the world, faced with similar social issues, would grow up to be similar in beliefs and attitudes. By adding the biological content to the study, it can be said that two children growing up in distinctly different parts of the world where biological and social factors are different, will be more different than alike when attaining maturity.

According to Bronfenbrenner (1979), children are affected by different ecological systems. These include the microsystem, mesosystem, exosystem, macrosystem, and chronosystem.  Berk (2000) identified the microsystem as that entity which has first effect on child development. It includes parents and other family members, daycare, schooling and infant friends. Bronfenbrenner identified bi-directional influence in this relationship. How a child acts will influence his parents about how they react towards him. However, there may also be impact on the child, based upon how he acts towards his parents.

Like the silk strands that hold together the spider’s web, Bronfenbrenner’s mesosystem is really composed of structure instead of an actual system. The mesosystem provides tentacles of support leading to the child. But from where do these tentacles originate? They lead to the child and come from those individuals who have direct influence upon the child’s development. These may include parents, teachers, church leaders, and even neighborhood people.

In biology, “exo” refers to things outside; for instance, an exoskeleton is a bony structure existing outside the body. In Bronfenbrenner’s exosystem (1979), there are forces that may impact the child and affect his behavior, but these forces work are not dependently connected to the child. They exist in the child’s abstract but have definite impact on the child’s behavior. Berk (2000), as an example, cites a parent’s work schedule.In this particular example, let us suppose that the parent needs to be away from home for an extended period of time. Because of the parent’s absence children’s activities are missed: going to the movies, concerts, sporting events, etc. Even though the parent’s absence may not be his/her fault, the child’s reaction toward his parents may be negative.

The outermost layer in the child’s development is called the macrosystem (Bronfenbrenner, 1979). This layer is comprised of cultural values, customs, and laws. The principles defined in this system are not caused by the parents or by any living organism with which the child comes into direct contact. But the laws, customs and values that affect us all also affect the children. In normal situations these laws may be generalized to the entire population; e.g. do not steal. However, in specific environments which have historically existed both here in the United States as well as in foreign countries, different laws are directed at different groups of people. It is easy to see how these may affect children: Do they fall into a privileged group, or are they consistent with an unprivileged or underprivileged group?

The child’s chronosystem (Bronfenbrenner, 1979) is more physiological in nature. Outside forces such as the death of a parent or other catastrophic condition may have an impact on the child’s development.

As a student, I have asked myself if my personal development can be traced to Bronfenbrenner or to a different social theorist. Indeed, there are probably bits and pieces of my development that can be traced to all the theorists of human development. But I can reflect more positively one the works of Bronfenbrenner than I can on other theorists of past generations. Too many of these theorists saw childhood development as a result of the relationship the child develops with his immediate family, or with his personal caregivers. However, Bronfenbrenner postulated that although our lives may be partially affected by our loved ones, they are also affected by the external forces in which we all live. Pavlov’s dog (1927) was stimulated by food, but are we not all stimulated by those bioecological events to which we are all exposed? We seek help from our parents, but we also seek the advice and help of those individuals we are taught to know and respect. Under normal circumstances, the child is drawn to the police officer or to the fireman. Under normal circumstances we put our faith in God, but also in our religious leaders. We run from noxious odors, yet we are drawn to the sweet smell of flowers. On the home front, we are drawn to loving parents, yet we shy away, or run away, from those who abuse us. Examining Bronfenbrenner’s exosystem, we see children who are involved with various activities, dependent upon the love and support of their parents. In this same sample of society, we see kids standing idly on the street corner, often feeling unloved, often seeking attention, even if it is only negative attention.

In the macrosystem, we see kids who attend church or a house of worship, who have respect for their elders and for each other, and who are growing up to becoming law-abiding citizens. Likewise, we see kids without positive influences in their lives—kids who deface churches, who spew violence at each other or even at strangers they have never met, and whose lodging may eventually become a prison instead of the comfortable surroundings of home.

In the chronosystem, we find kids who may be despondent because of a catastrophic event in their lives, who, in order to bring comfort to others, will volunteer their time to help mothers in-need. We also see similar kids who will withdraw from society and who will avoid the need for health care, thus eventually becoming a hindrance to their own existence or to the existence of others.

I am a character, a player, in Bronfenbrenner’s theory of life. As a child I was nurtured by loving, caring parents. My earliest remembrance of life (microsystem) was two parents gazing at me as if I was a special miracle, a gift from the Lord. Even today, I still have the fond memories (in pictures) that say to me and to the world: “Hey look at our wonderful child!” I remember by favorite clergy and my religious activities; I remember my favorite teachers, and the rewards heaped upon me for good grades in school (mesosystem). Every child has good days and bad, but in my case the good always greatly outweighed the bad.

My exosystem, like everybody’s exosystem, is sort of abstract. According to Bronfenbrenner, children do not have a say in the operation of their exosystem. Rather, it is an abstract that operates behind the scenes. It may involve parents or community actions over which we, as adults or children, have little control. But I recall my parents attempting to maintain control. When events occurred that could not be helped (my parents not being available to support me in an afterschool event), they went out of their way to ensure that if they couldn’t be there, somebody else in the family who I knew, loved, and trusted (an aunt or uncle, a grandparent, or a close family friend) were always present for my support.

As I matured, as I became an adult in my own right, my chronosystem changed somewhat. As an adult, I became more aware of my own actions, and as such I was called upon to take adult responsibility for those actions.  Bronfenbrenner didn’t change me: I changed myself. But using the model of growth and development created by him, I can say that I am ready to assume my place as a grad student at Capella University. I am entering Capella University with an understanding of how my life has changed over the years, and I am hopeful that my studies will lead to two major changes. First, I hope to learn to adapt to new knowledge and changes that will affect me as a successful student but also will allow me to help other human beings as a result of my newfound knowledge. Second, like my parents before me, I hope to be able to contribute generously to my own family, not merely in income, but also to produce another generation which will continually benefit humankind.

References

Berk, L. (2000). Child development (5th ed.) Needham Heights, MA: Allyn and Bacon.

Bronfenbrenner, U. (1979). The ecology of human development. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Erikson, E. (1993). Childhood and society. NY: Norton Publishing.

Freud, S. (1962). Three essays on the Theory of Sexuality, trans. James Strachey. New York: Basic Books.

Pavlov, I.I. (1927) Conditioned reflexes, Translated by G.V. Anrep, London: Oxford University Press

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