American psychologist, Urie Bronfenbrenner, proposed Ecological Systems Theory, which examines childhood growth and learning as it is affected by systems of relationships and the many levels of the surrounding environment. To better understand the complexities of childhood development, we must consider interactions within both the immediate and the larger ecosystem.
The microsystem consists of a child’s most important direct relationships and interactions within this immediate environment. These close, bi-directional relationships with parents, siblings, teachers, and peers are imperative. As the child influences the environment, the environment responds in-kind to the child’s attitudes and behaviors, influencing the learning process. These interactions are typically very personal, and they deeply impact growth and development. The most important relationships in a child’s life, when they are supportive and nurturing, children gain; when they are detached or unaffectionate, children suffer.
The mesosystem encompasses the functional interconnectedness and interactions between the primary influences in a child’s microsystem. For example, good communication (or lack thereof) between parents and teachers tend to positively (or negatively) influence development.
The exosystem is made up of the social structures that interact within a child’s microsystem. Whether directly or indirectly, environmental factors such as the neighborhood, extended family and friends, and the mass media (including social media, video games, television, etc.) all influence a child’s immediate world, in some or many ways. For example, consider a child whose parents are committed to taking care of a sick relative. While there may be less time for family adventures, parents might have more opportunities to instill and develop virtues of loyalty and empathy.
The macrosystem refers to the cultural ideologies of the established society and their influence over perceptions, beliefs, and values. Socioeconomic status, ethnicity, geography, and so many other cultural forces can all bear influence. The environment for children being raised in suburbia will be vastly different from children being raised in a country devastated by war, shaping altogether different approaches to life.
The chronosystem considers major changes experienced during our lives. Depending on how and when major events occur, their impact and timing can significantly alter a life’s trajectory. For example, a painful divorce or the death of a father figure can be devastating. If either occurs during a time when a person is emotionally vulnerable, a cascading downward spiral could effectively ruin someone’s life. Conversely, if either of these events happens to someone who is emotionally determined, these terrible events might inspire someone to rise from the ashes with a conquering mindset to blaze a path toward greatness.
As we raise our children, we must consider the environment. With greater awareness of the elements within and between ecological systems, fathers can more intentionally surround children with nurturing influences. Ecological Systems Theory tells us that by working as a team, parents, teachers, and the “village” as a whole can co-facilitate meaningful learning experiences to promote healthy childhood development.
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