Is a child affected by their environment and their social relationships as they develop? Urie Bronfenbrenner’s ecological systems theory offers one approach to answer this question. He believed that a child’s developed was affected by everything that was in the environment around them. There are five different levels of the environment according to this theory.
This is the environment that is closest to the child. It is those who have direct contact. It includes family members, teachers, daycare workers, and other caregivers. The relationships in this environment are bi-directional, which means how people treat the child will affect how the child treats them in the return. This is the most influential environment in the theory.
This is the environment that involves the relationships between the individuals that are within the microsystem of the child. They may not be direct relationships with the child, but still influence the child on a direct level. An example of this environment would be the relationship that a parent has with a child’s teacher or daycare worker. If these relationships work against each other, it can have a negative impact on the child’s development.
This is the environment that does not involve active participation from the child, but it still offers a setting that affects their development. It would include a decision that has an effect on the child, though the child may not have any actual input on the decision-making process. A parent who is fired from their job would be an example of this environment. Military families who have one parent deployed face this environment on a daily basis.
This is the environment which involves the culture in which a child lives. It is the overall set of systems that support how a child lives every day. Government systems, religious values, and economic conditions are three common types of environments that can have a positive or a negative effect on a child. When local values clash with national values, the impact on a child could be positive or negative.
This is the environment which includes events that transpire during a child’s life. Any life transition, crossroads, or even a historical event can affect the development of a child because these specific incidents change how a child would interact with their environments. Watching a Presidential election, the moon landing, or having a parent injured in an accident would all be examples that would fit into this category.
Why Is It Important to Recognize Each Environment?
How a child may interact socially, with their parents, or in the company of a teacher or caregiver can be influenced by one or by all of these environments. Negative influences occur when a “trigger” happens for the child without the presence of a coping skill. If the influence is not addressed, then the development of the child will receive a negative impact.
Imagine a child goes to school and is given a consequence for a behavior that they did not do. The entire class is given the consequence because a majority of students are misbehaving, but not this child. This is the trigger.
The child comes home frustrated about the event. This is a negative impact on the child’s development. At this stage, the parents can implement a coping skill to deal with that impact, creating a positive to offset the negative. Yet if the parents then confront the teacher, which affects the parent/teacher relationship, and that causes the teacher to treat the child differently, then another negative impact is created.
This means that every interaction, decision, and event that occurs in a child’s life will have a short-term impact on them. It will either be positive, negative, or neutral. The response to those impacts create additional impacts. This process continues throughout the life of the child and affects how they will make choices and respond to environmental stimuli when they are an adult.
If we can recognize the negative impacts a child receives and use the five environments in Urie Bronfenbrenner’s Ecological Systems Theory of Child Development to create positive impacts instead, then the social development of the child will be relatively balanced. This will allow them to develop their social and vocational skills at a pace that works best for them so they are able to freely explore the world around them.
Some events will always be outside of the control of those directly caring for a child. Yet when a positive impact can be made in one environment, the negative Chronosystem impacts can be offset so a child can have the foundation for a happy and healthy life.