Ecological theory of development


Bronfenbrenner's theory of development emphasizes the fact that during development a child is embedded in several environmental systems which interact with each other and the concerned person in order to influence development. The development of the child is looked at within the framework of the relationships found in his/her environment. Bronfenbrenner has stipulated five complex layers derived from the environment. Each layer has considerable effect on the development of a child. This theory which is currently referred to as "bioecological systems theory" emphasizes that a child's biology is the environment which contributes to his/her development (Berk, 2004). In this theory, Bronfenbrenner reveals that interaction of factors during the maturation of the biology of the child as well as the immediate environment whether family or community and the societal landscape which the child lives in contribute significantly to its total development.

Thus, when studying a child's development, we should concentrate on the interaction undertaken by the child in the large environment. The child development theories lay much emphasis on the fact that the child's biology as well as the environment he is growing in has a significant role during change and growth. According to Bronfenbrenner, interaction levels continue to increase as the child matures and develops. He gives insights on the manner in which the environment in which a child grows in continues to shape or hinder continued development of the child (Slee, 2002).

This paper analyzes my life in regard to Bronfenbrenner's theory. The effect of the kind of environment I grew up in and how it shaped me to be the person I am today.

Structure of environment

The Microsystem

This is the layer which is in direct and close contact with the child. The micro system thus encompasses the close relationships as well as interactions which a child has with family, neighborhood, school or a childcare centre. The impact exhibited in the micro system is bi- directional i.e. towards and away from the child. A parent thus affects the beliefs of the child and vice versa. During this level, bi- directional influences are quite strong and much of their effect is exhibited on the child (Rogoff, 2003). Nevertheless, some level of interaction especially at the outer levels impacts significantly the inner structures of the child. I was brought up in New York in a middle income family. We were seven children and being almost the last born meant that there I was treated warmly by the rest of my family members and especially my parents. Unfortunately when my parents divorced I was seven years. This negatively affected me since the pain of growing up in a broken family is massive.

The close relationship which I enjoyed with my father was kind of cut off. It is in this family set up that I received the kind of upbringing which made me want be involved in community service. The family set up provided the direct interaction with my parents, siblings as well as peers who shaped the career path and personality which I uphold today. For instance, probably because of the pain I experienced when my parents divorced, I have this special love to people and do not want them to suffer. Being a special advocate for the special children, enables me offer justice to abused children through representing their cases. This alleviates any form of oppression accorded by the children's abusers and ultimately makes me happy. Learning in a strict catholic school, impacted me with important social skills. My spirituality was enhanced and I was able to develop compassion especially to the abused children and the handicapped members of the society. (I am affiliated to the National association of the deaf persons) Learning in an all girls' school denied me the opportunity to develop lasting and healthy relationships with members of the opposite sex. I got pregnant at 19 years and I was unmarried at the time due to the lack of exposure on the ways to handle such relationships. I guess this was primarily because of lack of a father figure with whom I could identify with and relate to well.

The Mesosystem

Through this layer, a correlation between the structures existing in a child's micro system is provided. For instance, the link between the children's tutor and parents as well as that of his/her church and the neighborhood. The Mesosystem thus gives the connections with result from contexts. It is in the family setup that such developmental issues as language, security, beliefs and health are shaped (Berk, 2004). My family experiences directly affected my school experiences as well as the peer experiences. For instance, my parents divorce felt like my father had rejected us. I always felt like a failure and had initial fears in forming and developing positive relationships with my peers and the teachers. I have always felt that other people are better than me and to counter this feeling I put a lot of effort in my academics so as to demonstrate my capabilities. This I achieved 7 years ago when I graduated with a BA degree in Human services. Coordination amongst community agencies help in strengthening the relationships existing in individuals Mesosystem.

The Exosystem

This layer represents the large social system surrounding the child in which the child is not directly involved in its function. Structures existing in the exosystem indirectly impact on the development of the child due to the direct interaction of the structures existing in the micro system (Kail & Cavanaugh, 2007). Examples of structures in the exosystem include the child's parent's workplace programs as well as the family resources which are community based. The societal values, legislations as well as financial resources availed by the members of the society provide a conducive environment in which families thrive thereby contributing to positive development of a child. Although the child does not have a direct interaction with structures in this layer, the positive as well as negative forces experienced owing to the interaction of the micro system are felt by the child. The community in which I lived in provided me a chance to access people who were going through the same concerns as me and my family. Here I was accorded childcare as well as my parents employment was derived from the community thus our livelihood was catered for. Through partnerships which I held in the community I got a marketable skill in Human services which I continually use to make a significant contribution to the community.

The macrosystem

Being the child's environment outmost layer, this layer encompasses the cultural values, laws as well as the customs prevalent in the environment. The effects exuded from this layer constitute a cascading influence to all the other layers. For instance, most people hold the belief that if the culture of a child's parents requires the parents to bring up the child alone, then provision of the necessities required by the child will lie solely on the parents (Santrock, 2007). Thus the capability or incapability to undertake the responsibility regarding the child in the child's microsystem is ultimately affected. The culture of the New York City in which I grew up in had an impact on my total outlook to life. The socioeconomic status of my family being a middle class family did not accord much luxury as I would have wanted to have.

The Chronosystem

This layer encompasses the all important time dimension in relation to the child's environment. The elements present in this system encompass both the internal and external factors. External elements are for instance the death of a parent while internal factors include the physiological changes exhibited when a child is aging (Rogoff, 2003). In the course of the development of the child, the manner in which they react to environmental changes continues to differ considerably. The child is even able to determine the kind of impact to be exhibited on them by the environmental changes. The Chronosystem patterns the environmental events as well as the transitions which have taken place in the course of my life. I greatly felt the impact of my parents divorce during the first year of the divorce but later on family interactions became considerably stable thereby enabling me to pursue my career to the fullest. The socio-historical circumstances surrounding my parents divorce have made self doubt to emerge in regard to the achievements I have set out to accomplish.


The Ecological theory instigates that environmental factors play an important role in the development process. In particular, Bronfenbrenner emphasizes on the need to enhance primary relationships in family setups or in immediate spheres of life where a child receives direct influence (Kail & Cavanaugh, 2007). It is also vital to foster societal values as well as attitudes accorded by teachers, siblings, extended family, work supervisors or legislators which have direct influence on positive development of children. Thus political and economic policies which give importance to parental role in proper child development and upbringing need be put in place.


Berk, L (2004). Development through the lifespan. New York, U.S.A: Pearson Education.

Kail, R& Cavanaugh (2007). Human development: a life-span view. Florence, KY: Cengange Learning

Rogoff, B (2003). The cultural nature of human development. New York, U.S.A: Oxford University Press

Santrock, J (2007). Child Development. Columbus, OH: McGraw-Hill

Slee, P (2002). Child, adolescent, and family development. London, U.K: Cambridge University Press

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