The late Urie Bronfenbrenner was one of the most influential developmental social scientists in the last century. He had an important role in the design of the Head Start program and from the 1970’s until his death a few years ago; he developed the most comprehensive theoretical framework for understanding human development within the broader context of the social environment. Bronfenbrenner’s “bioecological systems” theory combines sociology and developmental psychology, with individuals and environments shaping each other. Children develop within several interlocking systems:
The first level of environmental influence on human development is called the microsystem.
The microsystem consists of people who directly interact with the individual: immediate family members, schoolteachers and peers; as well as the everyday settings in which the individual is immersed: home, school, church, and neighborhood environments. (Bronfenbrenner, 1993) As a child, Tracy Foy’s family was devastated by the loss of their father. This caused the older siblings to take on a more adult role, as the mother was forced into becoming the sole provider for the family.
Tracy, being the youngest did not understand the immediate effects.
She just saw it as her mother never around. As a result, those factors had a major impact on Tracy’s development; the passing of her father also served to bring them together as a tight-knit group and consequently, less open to outside influence. Tracy’s relationship with her mother was of special importance in her personal development. Being her mother’s youngest daughter Tracy formed an extremely intimate relationship with her.
Furthermore, Tracy’s mother was always very open and honest with Tracy about her personal development but did lack in the amount of time she was able to spend with her.
However, the impact of Tracy’s mother was significant because the love and compassion she had for her family did come through, in even her absence. Dr. Linda Mintle, who has a PhD in Clinical Psychology, is a licensed clinical social worker and the author of A Daughters Journey Home, maintains that: “The mother-daughter relationship is the perfect arena to develop and practice relationship building skills that form and shape every other relationship in a woman’s life because the mother-daughter bond is such a close one…The more you learn to make peace and find a meaningful connection with your mom, the richer other relationships will be.” (Christian Broadcasting Network 2008)
The intimacy established in Tracy’s relationship with her mother set the tone for intimacy in all of her subsequent relationships; she enabled Tracy to work hard in school, and helped to show her that being independent is a significant part of growing up. And to be honest about her life experiences with everyone she meets. Tracy’s ability to be so open and honest with complete strangers is one reason why she has decided to pursue a career in counseling. That microsystem therefore, had an enormous impact on both Tracy’s personal development and her decision to enter graduate school.
The next level of Bronfenbrenner’s ecological systems theory is the mesosystem. The mesosystem encompasses the relationships and interactions between the developing individual’s microsystems. (Bronfenbrenner 1996) For example, analysis of the mesosystem involves studying how the relationship between one’s parents and schoolteachers affects the developing individual. Tracy had older siblings that took the place of her father, and had an impact on how she did academically. This created extra pressure on Tracy to behave and perform well in school.
Her behavior was thus viewed as more mature and her peers would seek her advice and counsel as a mentor. She was described as someone who was “wise beyond her years. ” This mesosystem in Tracy’s development further supported her later decision to enter graduate school and pursue a career as a counselor. The exosystem in Bronfenbrenner’s theory of development includes an individual’s extended family, parental friends and colleagues, legal services, governmental agencies, and mass media. It also has been defined as environmental settings that do not directly interact with the developing individual.
(Bronfenbrenner, 1996) When Tracy was in middle school, her older sister went through a separation. While her sister did not appear to be bothered by the situation, Tracy was very sad on her behalf. It also made her question the permanence of marriage and ponders the effects of divorce on children, as Tracy had a young nephew caught in the middle. Fortunately, Tracy’s sister eventually got back together while Tracy watched with joy and relief. Being able to help parents work through issues to prevent divorce is one of Tracy’s goals in pursuing a degree in counseling.
Bronfenbrenner’s final system of human development in this original theory is the macrosystem. The macrosystem incorporates an individual’s ethnicity, as well as the cultural beliefs and ideologies within which a person is raised. (Bronfenbrenner, 1996) Tracy had a diverse heritage of Italian and Austrian/Hungarian. . Her grandparents emigrated from Austria and settled in the mid-west. Tracy was raised to believe people should be free to make their own way in life, without hindrance, oppression, or handout from the government.
Although Tracy’s family had struggled financially, she was taught that one’s success in life was a direct result of how hard one worked. The impact of the macrosystem on Tracy’s life inspired her to pursue a career where she can help empower other people to work hard and make their own way in life without the assistance of the government. These four systems, the microsystem, mesosystem, exosystem, and macrosystem were the original environmental systems that Bronfenbrenner outlined in his 1979 publication of The Ecology Human Development.
Later on, he added a fifth system to his theory called the chronosystem, which considers the change in one’s environment over time (Boemmel & Briscoe, 2003). When Tracy turned 14, just prior to high school, her family moved to a new community and school district. This move caused her micro-systems to change at a very critical point in her childhood development; the transition from girl-hood to woman-hood. As a result of moving into a new community, neighborhood, school and peer-group she developed the skill of “re-inventing” herself.
She learned how to use her charm and effervescence to win people over, and this solidified herself as an outgoing individual. To this day she is very good at making new friends and tackles change as an adventure. These qualities are advantageous for a counselor and thus aided in Tracy’s decision to pursue graduate school in the hopes of one day using these skills in a counseling practice of her own. From this brief synopsis of Tracy’s life, it is evident that the microsystem had a greater impact on Tracy’s personal development and decision to enter graduate school than any other level of environmental influence.
It was Tracy’s close relationship with her mother, and the empathy she felt growing up, that had the strongest influence on both Tracy’s development and her graduate school decision. Using Urie Bronfenbrenner’s ecological systems theory in this way has made it possible to determine the environmental factors on one individual’s development and a major decision in her life. This application makes it clear how Bronfenbrenner’s publication of The Ecology of Human Development catapulted him to the status of one of the most renowned developmental psychologists of his time. (Kazak, et al, 2010)
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