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Contribution of ecological theory

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Education
Wordcount: 3067 words Published: 1st Jan 2015

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“Analyse The Contribution Of Ecological Theory To Our Understanding Of Typical And Atypical Child Development, And Discuss This Model In Relation To The Factors And Possible Interventions For Child Abuse.”

The following assignment is going to analyse Bronfenbrenners, U. (1917-2005), ecological theory (1979, 1989), and other child development theories in regards to what is typical and atypical within children’s development and discuss whether this possibly can in reality have intervention for child abuse. Bronfenbrenner created a theory based on the environment and how the different aspects of the environment influence a child’s development, this is known as the ecological theory.

However there are many different theoretical approaches, not just the ecological theory when trying to understand child development, and what is actually typical, and atypical of a child’s development. Some of these different theoretical approaches to atypical child development are: Developmental psychopathology theory, the attachment theory, cognitive -development approach theory, and the transactional approach theory.

Though this being supposed what actually defines what atypical and typical is in regards to child development?  Bee, H and Boyd, D (2007) defines that atypical development of a child is the “Enduring pattern of behaviour that is unusual, compared to the behaviour of others of the child’s age, and that interferes with the child’s development in some significant way”. (The Developing Child, Pg, 427)

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Atypical development involves behaviours that are not classed as usual, for example attention deficit disorder (ADD). It could be argued if the ratio of children that had ADD was higher then it would be classed more typical behaviour, and distribution of this is then more widely spread. This being supposed apparently one in ten children show some form of intellectual abnormality. When comparing this proposal with IQ scores, IQ scores seem to ‘appear to be genuine risk factors for those who experience some school failure or more serious violent offences.’ (Hanalainen & Pulkkinen, 1996). Bee, H and Boyd, D, (2007) also suggest that children who have average intelligence but are several years behind their peers in school achievement are considered to be atypical.

It is debated that nature and nurture have a key role in child development, and what is actually typical and atypical, on how children learn and what they learn. Nature vs. nurture is an ongoing debate, and is one of the oldest most central theoretical issues, in philosophy and psychology. Most child psychologists now agree that a child’s development is a product of some interaction of nature and nurture.

When thinking about the nature vs. nurture debate, the psychoanalytic approach could also be compared and linked with the ecological theory. The psychoanalytic approach is the interaction between child’s inborn characteristics and environment, which plays central role in shaping differences in personality traits, and psychological problems later in life. Erikson, E (1902) psychosocial theory was based on the ‘psychoanalytic approach’ when looking at child development. In comparison to Erikson, Piaget, J, (1896) is known for his cognitive development theory, based on how a child’s mind works. The main idea of Erickson’s cognitive development theory in regards to learning is focused on how the child process, store and uses information, “personality develops through eight life crisis across the entire life span; a person finishes each crisis with either a good or poor resolution.” (The Developing Child, Pg.21) 

In both Piaget and Erickson’s theories, there are pros and limitations as they focus on a single aspect of the nature vs. nurture debate, where as the ecological theory focuses on nature side of the debate. In Piaget’s theory, he gives parents a guideline for development and assessors a method of measuring a child’s rate of development; where as Erickson’s theory seems to be too rigid to find an understanding of development and what is actually typical. Although Piaget has a method of measuring the rate of development, he relies on the idea of ‘maturation.’ Piaget is saying that children will develop deeper thinking ability. He relies on the idea of maturation because if they do not succeed in a stage, maturation will not occur, although maturation can happen long after birth as well. We all have certain genetic development that is programmed the way we develop, an example of this is we can control our body size, but also genetically predetermined body shape. Sequences like changing body size, shape, muscles, and bones are part of a: specific hereditary information passed on at the moment of conception. Erickson though believed that people continue to develop and change throughout life and individual experience is important, and only works if the individual has idea of self-concept. Erikson’s theory of psychoanalytic approach has eight psychosocial stages, which were developed on Freud’s () theory. Erickson was more based on nature on emotional development unlike Piaget. The behaviour is governed by the unconscious as well as conscious process.

“In its broadest sense, learning can be defined as a process of progressive change from ignorance to knowledge, from inability to competence, and from indifference to understanding….” (Fincher, C. 1957)

Vygotsky, (1986) believed that it was adults and the child’s peers, which had the responsibility in sharing their greater collective knowledge with the younger generations. He did not believe it was possible for a child to learn and to grow individually and the culture and the environment around the child played a big part in their Cognitive Development. (Flanagan 2001 P.72). He also believed a child was unable to develop the way he or she had without learning from others in the environment in which they were raised. In contrast, Piaget maintained that children were naturally inquisitive about their own abilities and about their environment (Jarvis, Chandler 2001 P.129) and that children advanced their knowledge because of biologically regulated cognitive changes. (Flanagan 2001 P.57). Whereas, Piaget believed that a child was only possible of learning the processes in each stage at any time (Flanagan 1999 P.60) and overlooked the role of the child’s activity with relation to thought processes. For Piaget, children construct knowledge through their actions on the world. By contrast, Vygotsky’s stages, unlike Piaget’s, were that of a smooth and gradual process. That understanding is social is origin. For Vygotsky the cultural and social aspects took on a special importance that is much less symmetrical than Piaget’s theories. Both theorists provided structured approaches to learning with some intertwining areas of focus. The environment played a role in both but was not considered to be the main contributing factor to learning. Vygotsky veered towards social skills where Piaget had a tendency to develop and explain intellectual learning. Both have impacted on present day theories and philosophies of learning, with their ideologies affecting the curriculum today and how learning is defined. Again both approaches are considered fundamental to how people learn and neither can be wholly dismissed or relied upon, but combined can give an insightful overview of the importance and variety of how people learn and what a child might learn individually is actually typical because of the way they are brought up to be developed.

The Ecological theory which focuses on the environmental influences on a child’s development is centrally focused on the child, and seems to be focused on nature, and take in all aspects that influence development. Bronfenbrenners states that the most important environment is the child’s family. Piaget on the other hand believed we have a set time in which to develop certain characteristics, rather through nurture than nature. Piaget believes that nurture was a key development in certain characteristics, this is because he believes that physical and intellectual development is influenced by what’s around us rather than ‘who.’ Piaget also emphasised how important play is as a development of learning, especially in symbolic play, like making pies out of mud or different objects that surround them, that influence them to play imaginatively.

The ecological theory has different stages and aspects that the environment has on the influence of child’s development. These are the microsystems, the mesosystem, the exosystem, macrosystem and finally the chronosystem. The microsystem is the closest factor of influence to the child, such as the immediate environment that the child lives in, and the educational setting for example school or nursery. This includes the child having immediate relationships with family members, caregivers, and staff at establishments such as school or nursery. ‘The microsystem encompasses the relationships and interactions a child has with their immediate surroundings.’ (Berk, 2000). At this stage, Bronfenbrenner suggests that relationships have an impact on the child. The primary caregiver of the child may inflict their beliefs and behaviour on the child, on the other hand the child’s behaviour could also affect the caregivers’ behaviour and beliefs, and it could be argued though that the behaviour of the child could be the influence of the immediate caregiver.  This concludes that the environment is a key factor on influencing children, and could continue through generations, and society. The next stage is the mesosystem this is where the immediate relationships from the microsystem work together for the child’s benefit. Family members, mainly the primary care givers take a dynamic role within the child’s education and learning. This could be the layer that ‘provides the connection between the structures of the child’s microsystem.’ (Berk, 2000). Berk, (2000) quotation suggests that the child’s home and school provide the connection needed at this stage, another example could be again between the child’s home and church. The third stage is the exosystem stage, ‘the structures in this layer impact the child’s development by interacting with some structure in her microsystem.’ (Berk, 2000). This is where the child is connected to other family links for example the parent’s work place, the community the live in, and extended family members and friends, yet not necessarily having direct involvement. When defining this looking back at the microsystem stage about parent’s behaviour influences their child, if the parent is content with work then the child should be content. The macrosystem, this stage takes into account for instance the law, cultural values, and economy. This is also where people, and links to the child are very distant although still have a great influence over the child, this can be in a positive or negative way. The final stage is the chronosystem, this stage is about time and how it relates to the child’s development, internally or externally.

‘At the individual level of an ecological model, characteristics of the child such as temperament, behaviour problems, or the presence of a disability may also be risk factors.’ (Sullivan & Knutson, 1998)

Today one point five million children in Britain are subject to one or more types of abuse. The 1998 Human Rights Act states that all physical punishment is prohibited towards children and this includes slapping. Child abuse can be not only just physical, but emotional, and sexual. Child abuse can be linked with Victoria Climbié. Victoria Climbié died from the abuse from her guardians Every Child Matters is a Government policy that was released after the death of Victoria Climbié. Services such as the police, social services, the National Health Service, NSPCC and local churches, were all aware of the abuse taking place by her guardians. However all of these services failed to take further action, so she died at just eight years old. The judge from the trial described her death as a ‘blinding incompetence.’  The report from the trial stated one hundred and eight recommendations that were needed within child protection. This then resulted in the Government producing the policy Every Child Matters, and also in addition the Children Act of 2004. The meaning of Every Child Matters is a framework to help improve the lives of children, so children do not experience the suffering that Victoria Climbié had, and the neglect from services, which should of helped her and not of neglected her. It was the Governments vision for enhancement of which professionals work together to provide children’s care. Though it could be suggested that Every Child Matters policy was only enforced after the realisation of the tragic circumstances, however there has been many other cases of child abuse that has resulted in devastating circumstances, so why now has the Government decided this is the right time to enforce a new policy, after many years of different child abuse and neglect cases. The question that needs to be asked is why enforce another new policy to make sure ‘Every Child Matters’ when there is already Child Protection Acts in place that should of stopped any child from not being protected in the first place, or actually is it services like the police and social services that need better awareness of working with child abuse cases, and being aware of how to deal with them. Mohr & Tulman (2000) state that children maltreatment is more likely to occur in families experiencing maternal distress (depression, physical symptoms), poverty, family stress, social isolation, and parental history of physical abuse and corporal punishment as children.

So looking at all the different theories, theorist point of view of how a child develops, and what actually is atypical and typical in regards to a child’s development, the ecological theory seems to have a greater understanding in relation to child development. Therefore it seems to look at the environment around the child in greater perspective. So it looks at the key factors in different stages, which are centrally focused on the child, followed by the family, and so forth. Bronfenbrenners ecological theory could provide intervention needed to stop child abuse. It is clear the theory implies if the parent is happy the child is happy which equals a happy environment.  Bee, H and Boyd, D (2007) say that aggression and other antisocial behaviour begins in early childhood, and then in the future tend to show more serious, severe aggression. So in order to prevent this through Bronfenbrenners ecological theory, it would need to target the stage where the problem is starting to happen, unless of course it is not the environmental influences causing the problem. Rey (2001) advises that the parenting style is the problem. The NCH states that violent marriages each year affect seven hundred and fifty thousand children a year, again this could be a contributing factor, and teaching the children that it is ok to be violent.  Cappell & Heiner, (1990), proclaims that abused children become abusing parents; this seems to give the impression if the abused children are removed from the people abusing them, and placed in an environment where they are not abused, they will have a better life chance, and not pass the abuse on to further generations. It could be assumed that children will learn that being abused in anyway emotionally, sexually or physical is what is typical and not atypical.

In conclusion there are many factors of the ecological theory that could prevent child abuse, however all different theories that are discussed seem to have a logical explanation to how a child develops and what is actually atypical of a child’s development, it seems that every person in society is individual and everyone including adults as well as children has some sort of atypical development and behaviour. Therefore as society changes what is actually classed as atypical or typical changes with society, and the generations from the family of the child because of past experiences. So it could be concluded that a child’s atypical or typical development is determined by what they have experienced in the environmental settings they spend time in, this backs up the theory of Bronfenbrenners ecological theory.


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