The Ecological Systems Theory

As I was growing up, I always heard of the expression that “people are a product of their environment”. I never gave this expression much thought until I got older and became more aware of my surroundings and my own environment. Personally, I feel that there is some truth to this statement. A person’s environment is very influential to their development. A famous psychologist that studied child development, Dr. Urie Bronfenbrenner, developed the ecological systems theory to show how a child’s development can be influenced by their environment.

Dr. Bronfenbrenner felt that “a person’s development is the product of a constellation of forces-cultural, social, economic, political- and not merely psychological ones” (Fox, 2005, para 6). According to an article by Nancy Darling of Oberlin College, “Ecological Systems Theory is presented as a theory of human development in which everything is seen as interrelated and our knowledge of development is bounded by context, culture, and history” (Darling, 2007, p. 204).

The Ecological Systems Theory consists of five levels of the environment that are influential to a child’s development.

These five levels are the microsystem, mesosystem, exosystem, macrosystem, and the chronosystem. These five levels each contribute significantly and helps to mold an individual which can affect their personality, the way they think, and who they are as a person overall.

The first level, the microsystem, consists of the immediate environment that the child is in on a daily basis (Oswalt, 2008). The microsystem would include a child’s immediate family, teachers, neighbors, daycare, school, and peers or anyone who a child or individual interacts with directly on a daily basis.

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The microsystem is important to a child’s development because if the environment they are around on a daily basis is stable, nurturing, and caring, then that child will likely model the same behavior. However, if the child is in an environment where they are neglected and abused or see violence, this can have an influence on their behavior and cause them to become affected by this negative environment.

For example, if a child is surrounded by a family who is violent and does not pay much attention to their needs, neighbors that use profanity, and aggressive peers, then this child is exposed to more negative than positive behaviors. This can cause the child to model what they are exposed to, which is negativity. However, if the same child is in an environment where the family is nurturing, the teachers are welcoming and encourage learning, and its’ peers display positive social skills, then the child is exposed to positive behavior and is more likely to display positive behavior than negative. This level is closest to the child and is the most influential level of the ecological system (Paquette & Ryan, 2001).

The next level of the ecological systems theory is the mesosystem. The mesosystem consists of how the people in the child’s microsystem interact with each other. The mesosystem is the connection, or the relationship, between the parents and the teachers or the child and their peers, to name a few. For example, if the child’s parents have a good relationship with his or her teacher and are involved with their education, this can help encourage learning and promote good behavior and good grades at school. If the parents are not involved at school and do not interact with the child’s teacher regularly, the child may feel as if education is not important and may display poor behavior and grades at school, which affects their learning.

The ecological systems theory also includes the exosystem. The exosystem consists of people that the child may not interact with on a daily basis but still has an influence on that child such as their neighbors, a coach, a preacher. The exosystem could also consist of situations that may happen to the parents that indirectly affects the child such as promotions or layoffs at work. A promotion or layoff at work determines how the child will be taken care of and impacts their physical needs (Oswalt, 2008). This type of situation can be either negative or positive for the child. A preacher or a coach can be looked upon as a role model or mentor to the child and can be very influential to a child and their development.

The last two levels of the ecological systems theory are the macrosystem and the chronosystem. The macrosystem consists of cultures, values, and laws. The macrosystem “describes the culture in which individuals live” (Santrock, 2007). The macrosystem has much to do with what is going on in society and how it affects the child. For example, a recession, a war, how society views gender roles, and the child’s family values, can all greatly affect the development of a child. This can influence how a child feels about the government, its views on war, or what the child grows up to value. The chronosystem is life events that can alter or change how the child feels about certain things or situations. For example, any transition such as a death of a parent, a birth of another child, or a divorce can change the views of a child.

Bronfenbrenner’s ecological theory of development has helped to shape my development because as I was a young child, my parents were affectionate and nurturing towards myself and my siblings, we were raised in a positive, stable, and structured environment, and my parents supported a good education and were involved with our teachers in school. The way my parents raised me has helped me to become a great mother to my son. I try to make sure that the people in his microsystem that he deals with directly are positive in order to help him develop and grow into a positive individual. I consider myself to be nurturing and supportive towards my son. We have a good relationship and I try to raise him a positive environment as well. I instill in him, the values that my parents instilled in me. Since my levels in the ecological system were positive as I was growing up, I feel that it has influenced me to become a well-rounded individual. It has helped me to have morals, values, and self-respect.

The levels in my ecological system have influenced me to value education and to want to pursue an education on the graduate level. Because I take my role as a mother seriously, I want to offer my son the best life possible. This means that I have to be a great provider for him, which includes having a stable job that pays well and working in a career that I enjoy. I have always enjoyed learning about child development and I currently work with children in the mental health field. Obtaining a master’s degree will help me to be able to develop and grow personally and more professionally so that I can be a better provider for my family as well as get a job in the field that I wish to pursue. My career goals include working with children and adolescents either in the school system, as a child psychologist or social worker, or in the juvenile justice field. In the future, I hope to continue working with children directly, as a part of their microsystem, in order to make a difference and be a positive influence to them, as individuals in my microsystem were to me.

So, is it safe to say that “people are a product of their environment?” I think Dr. Urie Bronfenbrenner did a good job of showing that this can be true by developing the ecological systems theory. However, we still have to be aware of the fact that although a child’s environment is very influential to their development, they have the power to change, or transition, their thoughts and beliefs. We must remember that a person’s beliefs systems can also be affected by experiences and situations that they encounter throughout life. So, yes our environment is very influential to our development, but we do not have to be a product of our environment since we are able to make changes within ourselves to become who we want to be.


Darling, N. (2007). Ecological Systems Theory: The Person in the Center of the Circles. p. 204. Retrieved December 20, 2012 from Fox, M. (2005). Urie Bronfenbrenner; renowned authority on child development. New York Times News Service. Retrieved December 20, 2012 from Oswalt, A. (2008). Urie Bronfenbrenner and Child Development. Retrieved December 21, 2012 from Paquette, D. & Ryan, J. (2001). Bronfenbrenner’s Ecological Systems Theory. Retrieved December 20, 2012 from Santrock, J. (2007). Bronfenbrenner’s Ecological Systems Theory. Retrieved December 20, 2012

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The Ecological Systems Theory. (2016, Dec 05). Retrieved from

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