Bronfenbrenner Child Development Theory Explained


Urie Bronfenbrenner developed the ecological systems theory to describe child development. His approach suggests that everything within a child and everything in that child’s environment affects development and growth.

The Bronfenbrenner child development theory suggests that there are four systems which influence the child as they grow and develop.

1. Microsystems

Bronfenbrenner suggests that the immediate environment of the child, which is the small area where they live, is a microsystem. People within this system would include the family of the child, any caregivers that are in their life, people at school, and people at a daycare facility. Anyone who can make decisions regarding the direct welfare of the child through a relationship would potentially be included.

If these individuals create environments that are nurturing and encouraging for the child, then the growth and development of the child will be encouraged.

If the environment is directed toward isolation, loneliness, and self-sufficiency, then the growth and development of the child will be discouraged.

Specific genetic traits can also influence the type and level of growth of the child, no matter what the microsystem may be.

2. Mesosystems

Bronfenbrenner suggests that how the different parts of a child’s microsystem can work together will directly affect the development of a child.

If a child’s parents or guardians take an active role in the school where the child attends, then this reinforces the growth potential that is possible. Events, such as attending a child’s baseball game, would also show a positive interaction between microsystem elements.

If the microsystem elements disagree with the process that should be followed to encourage growth in a child, then it can prevent that growth from occurring. The greatest potential for growth reduction would occur when two direct caretakers that are important to a child, such as their mother and father, would disagree and provide different lessons to the child that conflict with each other.

3. Exosystems

Bronfenbrenner suggests that there are relationships outside of the close, intimate relationships of the microsystem that can influence the development of a child. Other people, places, and events may directly influence the development process, even if the child does not interact with those elements.

The example Bronfenbrenner uses involves the employment of a parent. When a parent is working, the child is not part of that direct relationship. The child benefits, however, because the parent brings home a paycheck and that money meets their basic needs.

If the parent receives a promotion, then they may earn more money. That extra money can be used to meet more needs for the child, such as better clothes, better food quality, or even better schooling. A positive change in the exosystem creates positive change within the microsystem.

The opposite is also true. If the parent is fired from a job and not eligible for unemployment, then the lack of income can have a negative impact on the child. They may not be able to eat better food, have better clothes, or go to a private school any longer.

There are various other exosystem relationships that may apply, including extended family relationships, neighborhood interactions, and similar relationships.

4. Macrosystems

Bronfenbrenner also suggests that outside influences that do not involve a relationship with the child can have a direct impact on their upbringing and development. The macrosystem is the largest environment that interacts with the child, is the most remote environment as well, but still has a large influence on the child.

A macrosystem could be a political decision that is made, such as restricting the ability for the child’s family to obtain low-cost healthcare. A positive impact could also be made, such as allowing tax credits for school costs, which would allow for more microsystem needs to be met.

Additional macrosystems could be religious values that are enforced, cultural values that are emphasized, the growth or recession of an economy, or even warfare in a different country. Anything that would affect the child in any way, but does not fit into the three previous environment categories, would become a macrosystem influence.

What Does This Mean for Modern Child Development?

Bronfenbrenner’s child development theory shows that multiple influences can make a direct impact on how a child develops. Even if a parent does everything right and positively influences the microsystem, negative influences in a child’s exosystems and macrosystems could offset what the parent attempts to accomplish.

For this reason, Bronfenbrenner indirectly suggests that a village really does raise a child, though many may not realize the true impact of their decisions.