This research highlights the definition of the ecological model and determines the dynamic interrelations of its different parts. It explores the impact of the environment on human development in the context of the at-risk tree and Bronfenbrenner’s circular ecological model. The analysis of the ecological model’s impact on human behavior, attitudes and development in general is made, using the examples of neglected and abused children and my own development. Finally, this paper provides information on the importance and application of ecological modeling.
Keywords: ecological model, human development, behavior.
Ecological Model and Its Influence on the Human Development
The ecological model is a simplified representation of real life systems used to address public health problems. A human is believed to be an ecological organism that interacts constantly with other organisms in the environment. The ecological model highlights the impact of politics, culture, social relationships and life experiences on the behavior, attitudes, abilities and the development of a human being in general. Currently, the younger generation is facing numerous life problems and challenges. These life problems and difficulties interact, reinforce one another, reverberate within the community and, finally, become intergenerational. Environments and policies affect children’s social and emotional functioning and, very often, making healthy choices becomes impossible. When children’s and young people’s development is at risk, society, in general, is supposed to be at risk.
The analogy of a tree helps to consider the range of these interdependent factors and identify potential causes of the risks facing children and young people. Thus, the soil of the at-risk tree is supposed to be the individuals social environment, which includes social, political and economic climate and changes, cultural factors, socioeconomic status, and other factors. The threats of violence and terrorism, urbanization and poverty nourish the soil of the tree and contribute to the development of at-risk children and youth.
Children assimilate various life experiences through the roots of the tree. As a fact, the roots of the children at-risk tree are represented by the family, school, and peers or mates. Although the family is considered to be a taproot, school and peers can also be a powerful transmitter of different values, norms, as well as a culture that affects the individual’s behavior. The trees blossom and fruits are supported by its trunk. The trunk of the at-risk tree is a combination of human specific behaviors, attitudes, and skills. Thus, the child’s weakness, disabilities, certain personal risks and features contribute to the individual`s predisposition to at-risk behavior.
The process of adapting to the society of children and young people passes through the branch of the tree. Thus, some children and youth successfully integrate into the society, while others isolate themselves from their families, society, and cultural heritage. The most damaged fruits are produced by such branches, as substance abuse, violence and delinquency, risky sexual behaviors, school dropout, and suicide. Due to the growth of at-risk categories, the probability that at-risk and maladaptive behaviors will disseminate among children and youth increases. As a result, they will be served as the seeds for future generations (McWhirter et al., 2013).
Undoubtedly, the at-risk tree needs water, sun, nurturing, pruning, etc. Through appropriate nurturing of the soil, the risks of damage to the roots and other parts of the tree can decrease. Hence, in order to decrease the share of at-risk children and young people, the most common risk factors need to be scrutinized and prevented.
The analysis of the psychological development, brain development, and intimate relationships of the abused and neglected children can be performed in the context of the at-risk tree. As mentioned above, the roots play a significant role in the tree’s blossoming. As a result, children and teenagers, who grow in families with alcohol or drug-abusing parents, develop the feelings of anger, shame, fear, anxiety, helplessness, and others. They may also develop different physical, emotional, and behavioral symptoms, such as low immune system, nightmares, insomnia, low self-worth, aggressive character, lack of conscience and others (Clinton et al., 2010).
Since family is the taproot of the tree, the lack of the caregiver`s attention impacts the child’s mental abilities and academic progress, leading to maladjustment, misunderstanding of human values, etc. Poor body regulation, failure to articulate emotions and difficulties with memory organization can be the result of incomplete brain development. Early stressful experiences may result in profound trauma that reverberates throughout the child’s life. The lack of parents` attention affects the capacity for interpersonal communication, empathy, trust, emotional connectedness, and related experiences. As a result, abused and neglected children have difficulties with social development and integrated functioning. Children from seedy families may become scapegoats for their classmates and peers They manipulate or may be manipulated, instead of developing respectful reciprocal relationships. The aggression, which they witness at home in the early years, may further reflect on the relationships in their future families. Antisocial behaviors can lead to inadequate sexual development and frequent emotional and anger outbursts. Finally, due to misunderstanding of what is right and wrong, abused and neglected children may follow the criminal path. In addition, the seeds of bad interactions may grow up later and affect the next generation.
Another ecological model formulated by Bronfenbrenner positions the individual as the center of the circles of systems. These systems are classified as a microsystem, mesosystem, exosystem, macrosystem, and chronosystem. Each circle contains various reciprocal experiences and relationships with people and organizations in a person’s life.
The microsystem includes a person’s closest interactions, such as family, friends, school, college, etc. The mesosystem combines different reciprocal interactions of microsystems. The exosystem does not presuppose the person’s direct involvement and includes public policy, political structures, and similar concepts. The macrosystem is established by cultural values and beliefs, race relations, gender socialization, national and international connections, etc. The social historical transitions and circumstances during the person’s life make up the chronosystem of the ecological model (Sigelman & Rider, 2011). Ecological transitions that involve a change in the role and particular positions in the society leave a significant trace on human development. As a result, consistent and positive reciprocal interactions within the ecological system enhance human development.
My development within the interconnected ecological systems can serve a good example of ecological model. The microsystem of my development includes the relationships with my family, friends, peers and community, and activities that I experienced at school and later, in college. The family has provided me with affection, nurturance, and opportunities for development. I can still rely on their support and help. The school has become a fundamental environment for my education, the development of my knowledge and skills. Peer groups provide companionship experiences, cooperation, independence, support, and help me to determine my group role. The community in general provides examples of appropriate behaviors and shares other people’s experiences. In addition, the media serve as a source of internal information about the world.
The mesosystem of my ecological system is a combination of different interactions and interrelationships between persons that also interact within the microsystem. Thus, family experiences, school experiences, and peer experiences have their impact on my development. My role in the exosystem is not active, but it influences my microsystem. Thus, my father`s and mother`s experiences at work may impact their relations with me. If my mother has too many business trips, it will cause conflicts with my father and will further reflect on their relations with me. In order to prevent such conflicts, she had to avoid traveling too much on work.
The macrosystem includes the society and subculture, in which I live. My country, ethnicity, and socioeconomic status have their impact on my lifestyle, beliefs, interactions, and changes in my life. Common values, identity, and heritage unite all members of my environmental system. The chronosystem is well-observed at the end of the human life. It shows how the different patterns of environmental transitions affect individual behaviors and attitudes. It may be the period of career development or marriage that have both positive and negative effects on the person’s development and growth.
Since the influences of different parts of the ecological model are interrelated, individual behaviors and biological attributes have their impact on the person’s environment (Shaffer, 2009). The definition of appropriate social qualities within the environment may have positive influence on the person, his or her behavior, and the quality of interactions with the social environment. A great emphasis is supposed to be put on system thinking and ideas.
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The use of ecological modeling and its application to human development can help solve various society problems. Public attention can be focused on mental health, teenage abortions, dietary changes, alcohol and drug abuse, and other issues. Ecological modeling can help to explain the effects of age and aging on human survival and mortality, the emergence of various diseases, physical and cognitive functioning, the development of psychosocial disorders, the incidence of injuries and falls. At the same time, it can help to promote public health among nations.
Following genuine progress and wealth, nations need to define their core values and the desired target behaviors. The nation’s wealth should be measured with the help of the Genuine Progress Indicator (GPI), which encompasses life expectancy, self-rated happiness, personal indebtedness, youth suicide, income and wealth inequality, violence in society, environmental health, and other indices (Anielski, 2007). This model of national behavior may foster the development of the society’s wellbeing.
The ecological model represents the interaction and integration of the environmental, biological, behavioral, and social factors and serves as a foundation for understanding the influence of organizations, people and public policies on human choices at different periods of their lives. Within the context of the ecological model, human development is viewed as a product of interactions and interrelations between active human being and the environment, which is constantly changing.