The Ecological Systems Theory, developed by Bronfenbrenner, aims to explain how children’s inherent qualities, as well as the characteristics of their environments, interact with one another and influence the way in which individuals grow up.
The importance of the theory is linked to its emphasis on the need to study child development in multiple environments, or ecological systems, in an attempt to understand the patterns of their development. According to the theory, children would usually find themselves interacting with different ecosystems, which range from home ecological system, which is the closest and the most intimate, to the most comprehensive system that captures the entire society and culture, and the impact of such interactions in inevitable.
Within the theory, the microsystem represents the immediate surroundings of an individual. It comprises the home, school or daycare, as well as the closest e group and community environment. Within the microsystem, the interactions that a child has usually include personal relationships with family, peers, and teachers.
While the closest environment has an immense impact on child development, Bronfenbrenner found that the same microsystem can result in different experiences in individuals (Schriver, 2011). This shows that there is no one key system that influences child development the most, but it is the interaction between specific personality traits and the temperament of an individual, alongside with biological factors, have the ultima impact on child development.
The mesosystem captures the connections between the different microsystems within which children find themselves and with which they interact on a personal level. It is a system of microsystems and involves the connections between family and school, family and community, as well as family and peer groups. The exosystem represents the relationships that can exist between two and more environments, and one of such may not even contain a developed child but nonetheless affect his or her development.
Such environments can include extended family members, neighborhoods, or the workplaces of children’s parents. For instance, if parents experience difficulties at work, their attitude at home can be negative overall, which will inevitably influence the way in which they interact with their children. The macrosystem is the broadest environmental category and encompasses even the most distant people and places that can influence child development.
It captures the cultural values and patterns that shape the worldview of developing individuals, and specifically the significant ideas and beliefs, as well as the economic and political systems (Zastrow & Kirst-Ashman, 2010). Finally, the chronosystem reflects the time dimension of child development and emphasizes the important role that both changes and constancy play in children’s lives.
Thus, the Ecological Systems Theory shows how different aspects and influences occurring throughout the lifespan shape one’s development. While it may be easy to consider the microsystem to be the most influential and significant to development, it is important to note that it is the interplay between the system and the individual with specific qualities and characteristics creates a unique experience that will be different for different people even in cases if environments are completely the same.
This spurs further debate on nature versus nurture and the factors that are the most impactful on shaping an individual. However, the ecosystem theory suggests that human development should be considered from a systems perspective in which every component plays an important part in creating the bigger picture.
Schriver, J.M. (2011). Human behavior and the social environment: Shifting paradigms in essential knowledge for social work practice (6th ed.). Pearson/Allyn & Bacon.
Zastrow, C. H., & Kirst-Ashman, K. K. (2010). Understanding human behavior and the social Environment (9th ed.). Thompson-Brooks /Cole.