A Parent-Child relationship is all powerful. It is important that we consider the environmental context in which human development occurs. Urie Bronfenbrenner’s social-ecological model asserts that the study of development influences must include the person’s interaction with the environment, the person’s changing physical social settings, the relationship among those settings, and how the entire process is affected by the society in which the settings are embedded. Bronfenbrenner’s model consists of four levels of environmental influences which are the microsystem, the mesosystem, the exosystem, and the macrosystem.
What does this all mean and how does it help me understand human development and my child or even a separate parent-child relationship? Bronfenbrenner’s model helps understand the influence these settings have on a child’s development and helps to determine risk and protective factors for a family.
The microsystem consists of the network of social relationships and the physical settings in which a person is involved each day such as peers, teachers, siblings, parents, neighbors and so on. The mesosystem consists of the relationship between home and school, school and neighborhood and home and religious setting. The exosystem consists of social structures that directly or indirectly affect a person’s life and includes the parent’s workplace and home. The macrosystem consists of the overarching cultural patterns of a society that are expressed in family, educational, economic, political, and religious institutions.
Let’s take a look at how this system works in the following scenario:
Ashley is 13 and lives with her mother and younger sister. Her mother does not have consistent employment. Without having a stable job, the family oftentimes have basic needs that are left unmet. Ashley’s mother gets involved with abusive men who abuse illegal substances, but have finances that will help maintain her household. Ashley is left home alone to care for her younger sister while her mother goes on drug deals with these men. Since Ashley’s mom seldom has time to prepare home cooked meals, the family resorts to eating fast food each night. Although Ashley realizes that getting a good education is important, she has difficulty concentrating in school. She spends a great deal of time with her friends, all of whom enjoy taking trips downtown to go to the movies or shopping. On these occasions they “hang out” and occasionally shoplift or smoke a little marijuana. Her mother disapproves of her friends, so Ashley keeps her friends and her mother apart.
Ashley’s microsystem consists of her mother, her peers, her younger sibling, mother’s boyfriends, and school. Ashley’s home environment consists of her mother telling her how important school is but does not offer that gentle but firm push that encourages her to move on and develop into a capable young adult. Ashley is heavily dependent on peers, one of the strongest predictors of problem behavior in adolescence. Children who feel rootless or caught in conflict at home find it difficult to pay attention in school. Like Ashley, they often look to a group of peers with similar histories, who, having no welcoming place to go and little to do that challenges them, seek excitement on the streets.
The ecological approach allows us to view the developing person’s environment as a nested arrangement of structures, each contained within the next. These dynamic interlocking structures challenge us to consider the risks and opportunities for development at each level. For instance, such problems as homelessness, child abuse and neglect, school violence and psychopathology can be insightfully viewed as products of contextual factors that interact with individual and institutional vulnerabilities, particularly the family (Acs & Nelson, 2002; Tolan, Gorman-Smith, & Henry, 2003).