Urie Bronfenbrenner

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Urie Bronfenbrenner- Ecological System Theory


Table of Contents



Urie Bronfenbrenner (1979) proposed the ecological systems theory. This theory focuses on the link between a child and his environment as well as how this overall affects on the early growth and development of a child. There are different aspects of the environment that affect on a child's early development which also includes the micro system, the meso system, the exo system and the macro system.

The micro system includes the immediate environment the child interacts or lives in. This immediate environment could be his family, day-care center, pre-school or school. It has been observed that this environment leaves a direct impact on a child's development, the more encouraging and facilitating these relations are, the better and positive effects they leave on child's early development and growth. Moreover, it is equally important to understand that how these relations respond or treat the child for his actions (Berk, 2000).

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Meso system explains the next stage of Bronfenbrenner's theory. This describes the strong relation between the different parts of a child's immediate environment (micro system) and how they work in collaboration for making a positive influence on the life of a child (Berk, 2000). For example, parent-teacher meetings at school or attending their child's school function. This co-ordination between the different elements of micro system ensures a positive progress in the development and growth of a child. However, ignorance can hinder the process at different phases of development.

 The next segment of exo system incorporates such people and places that interact indirectly with a child but still they have a large influence on him. Such as neighborhood, parents' workplaces extended family members etc (Berk, 2000). This is can be further explained through a simple example when a parent’s laying off from work may have negative effects on a child's developmental stages. If a parents are unable to provide the basic amenities of life like pay rent, groceries etc. Then it can have negative effects on a child's mind. But it can be remedied by giving deserved promotion to those parents and raising their salaries, all of which will contribute positively to the physical and mental development of their children.

 Macro system is the final level in Bronfenbrenner's model. This is the largest system which compromises of the far inaccessible set of people and places or things that greatly affects a child. This includes the cultural values, social norms and traditions, liberty to express, economy, war etc. They can affect a child in both the ways either positively or negatively (Berk, 2000).


This model further proves that environment plays a key role in the development of a child which shapes the overall personality of a child either positively or negatively. This affects on overall behavior of a child that how he reacts with his immediate environment and what response he gets in return or how he behaves with the world outside, outer environment or how he reacts with the social norms or cultural values with what affects?
According to David Frost (1989) family is the most influential part of the meso system. It effects directly on all aspects of the child's development. In today's society the pattern of a traditional family has changed greatly with a new rise in single-parent families, working families with both working mothers and fathers. However, divorce has changed the overall landscape of family in our society. This factor has its profound affects on the development of child. A number of other systems from within the meso system and the exo system are also greatly affected by the family.  Like for example, in my early development as a child my parents have played a key role in shaping my personality. They set themselves as role models for me to derive inspiration from them as good humans with strong character and personality. Childhood is the foundation of adolescence and this further shapes the overall personality of a child as a person in future.

It has also been noticed that the relationships a child cultivates in school may have critical effects on their positive development. It is a known fact that children spend major amount of their time at school where they get an opportunity to develop more relationships outside their immediate family.
These associations help the child both emotionally and morally. The importance of these bi-directional interactions has also been highlighted by Bronfenbrenner. In addition, Bronfenbrenner has also proposed five propositions that explains how these relationships formed at home and at school collaborates together in influencing the child's development positively (Brofenbrenner, 1990). However, these propositions have limitations to be practiced or implemented today especially in schools. As assumed by Addison (1992) that Brofenbrenner was uncertain on the stability of the modern family life which could hinder the process of child’s development in a progressive way. 

Constant mutual interaction with mature adults is also very necessary for development. According to the ecological theory, breaking down of the relationships from the immediate environment would make a child to lose his interest from other parts of his meso system. This would make the children to seek for attention and relationship from unsuitable places. These deficiencies of lack of attention and care result in lack of discipline, aggression, stubbornness, anti-social behavior, lack of interest in studies thus overall it damages the personality of a child at early stages (Addison, 1992).
In my childhood, during my school days I had few friends who were either aggressive or lacked interest in studies and confidence mainly due to conflicts between their parents, coming from broken families or they received little or no attention from their families or parents which made them a creature out of circumstances. These all factors contributed in de-shaping their personalities at a very early age of child development when they required more attention and care, assistance in studies and appreciation from their parents.

A family plays a key role in healthy child development. It has been observed that healthy families are themselves supported by strong individuals and institutions inside a community they live in (Weiss, Woodrum, Lopez, & Kraemer, 1993). Initiation of family support programs has helped in the better development of children and families, parent education, early childhood education as well as neighborhood based programs (Weiss, 1983). Schools and local community agencies have played a major role in backing up the family support program, where schools or educators constantly interact with families. It is also a developmental process where families are given opportunities to progress and grow just as their children do.

Such programs also facilitate the families to overcome their financial crisis as well as empower parents in the development of a sound future for their children. Whereas using it as a tool for managing workplace issues and conflicts has also helped the parents in making a positive influence on the process of early development of their child (Hernandez, 200). This requires a strong community interaction between the different groups within a society that helps parents to overcome such issues which can hinder the process.

I have experienced the effects of workplace conflicts that affected our home when my mother was working in a school as a teacher. She started facing issues at her school that made her aggressive and aggravated all the time at home even. This influenced the overall atmosphere of our home which was quite unsuitable for my younger siblings. To address this issue my father and few of my maternal relatives talked to my mother and supported her morally and emotionally because they knew the fact that my mother’s unhappy mood was affecting the vulnerable minds of my younger siblings who were at the stage of early development and learning. This unconditional support made her to take the wise decision and she left the job as she was unable to tackle the conflicts and then pouring all that aggression back at home.

This was indeed a wise decision because first of all my younger siblings were getting neglected by mother’s attention and care which they needed most at that time and secondly, the whole family was getting affected by her depressive and aggressive mood which could have resulted in damaging the strong family bond that we all shared at some point in future.

Children are widely affected by their culture, values and traditional norms which are inherited by them through their parents and other structures in the meso system and exo system. Our culture best reflects our religion, family life, society and values.
Cultures are based on beliefs that could be co-operative or competitive. For example; in United States and other countries, it has been assumed that families are responsible for supporting and bringing up a child, however seeking help from someone outside is considered morally and culturally wrong. Because of this belief, their legislation facilitates such families by providing them aid. On the other hand, individuality or separateness has given rise to competition between the masses in educational and economical systems.

Cultural beliefs have greatly influenced all the Bronfenbrenner’s systems. These beliefs have given a strong sense of individuality in a child (Seifert, 1999). Culture plays a strong role in defining one's identity and therefore it could be the cause of many conflicts in a country who shares different cultures. A country may help to give rise to a unified society which could maintain different cultures, religions, nationals and ethnic groups. However, a child may lose his identity under the influence of a dominant culture (Seifert, 1999). To simplify and support the statement, I can give the example of my nephews and niece here who are living in United States. Being born and brought up in United States and remaining under the influence of the western culture, they have no familiarity with the culture of their parents. They have no idea about their roots and eastern traditions that prevail in their parents’ homeland because they are under the influence of the dominant culture which they have seen around them as represented to them through their friends, at school and in the society they are living.


Here, we have come to the conclusion that environment plays an important role in shaping up a personality of a child at early stages of his life when he is developing himself through observing, exploring and learning from his surroundings especially from his family, school , neighborhood and society. As far as myself is concerned my family has played a vital role in shaping my behavior and personality where I learnt a lot of things though keen observation.

My family strength gave me a courage to build up my confidence and courage to face the challenges within and outside of the society I lived in equally keeping in mind the cultural values and norms that I had to follow from a small age and that later helped me to understand my identity and uniqueness as well my strengths and weaknesses to overcome the problems I faced each day at school.
According to the Bronfenbrenner’s ecological theory of systems, the four phases have a deep impact on child’s early growth and development which shapes his overall personality as a person in future which is influenced by many other factors as well such as political cultural and social which can be further illustrated by the following diagram:
This model clearly explains the relationships a child encounters at his early stage of life which contribute in the development of his overall personality either positively or negatively. This model also well explains my early development as a child and the factors that have affected on my personality and helped me to analyze my potentials and how I can contribute in the well-being of my society as a influencing element of this model in future.


Berk, L.E. (2000). “Child Development” (5th ed.). Boston: Allyn and Bacon. 23-38.
David Frost (1989). “Having one child makes you a parent; having two you are a referee.” Independent. Pub 9-16-89.

Bronfenbrenner, U. (1990). Discovering what families do. “In Rebuilding the Nest: A New Commitment to the American Family”. Family Service America [web site].http://www.montana.edu/www4h/process.html viewed 11 MayS 2011.

Addison, J. T. (1992). “Urie Bronfenbrenner”. Human Ecology, 20(2), 16-20.

Weiss, H. B., Woodrum, A., Lopez, M. E., & Kraemer, J. (1993).” Building villages to raise our children: From programs to service systems”. Cambridge, MA: Harvard Family Research Project.

Weiss, H. (1983). Introduction. In E. Zigler, H. Weiss, & S. Kagan (Eds.), “Programs to strengthen families”. New Haven, CT: Bush Center in Child Development and Social Policy.

Hernandez, L. (2000). “Families and schools together: Building organizational capacity
for family-school partnerships”-http://www.gseharvard.edu/hfrp/projects/fine/resources/case_study/abstract.html#cs viewed 11 May 2011
Seifert, K. (1999). “Constructing a psychology of teaching and learning.” Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company. 283-316.
Image 1, “Ecological Model”- http://www.sasked.gov.sk.ca/branches/psych_portal/mtp.shtml viewed 11 May 2011

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