Ecological Systems Theory

From the time a person first enters this world until they taketheir final breath, they go through many changes that will shape their character and determine how they handle situations in their life. Many different psychologists have studied human behavior and why it is that we react a certain way in different circumstances, and ultimately why we behave in the way that we do. Urie Bronfenbrenner developed a model called the “Ecological Systems Theory” that attempts to explain what factors influence a person’s behavior and which ones have the most impact.
The model is broken down into five systems: the “Microsystem”, “Mesosystem”, “Exosystem”, “Macrosystem”, and “Chronosystem”. The “Microsystem” is considered the most intimate or most influential level and it consists of the interactions between the person and their family or their close friends. These influences are bidirectional, meaning that both sides are influenced equally. For example, a child who is very calm and obedient will most likely cause the parent to be calm and trusting of the child. On the other hand, if the parent is very strict and harsh towards the child, the child may feel the urge to rebel against the parent.
The “Mesosystem” essentially represents the connections between the “Microsystems”. This means that there is more than one factor that influences a situation in one’s life. For example, if a young student is doing poorly in school, it can be due to lack of parent involvement in their academics, or if the parents show interest in the child’s school life at all. Another example of this would be if an employee was not doing well in the workplace, it could be linked back to a fight at home or the lack of communication with a spouse. The next level in the theory is the “Exosystem”.

This system is made up of experiences or factors that do not necessarily contain the developing person but nevertheless have an impact in their life. These factors or experiences can be formal or informal organizations. Formal organizations consist of flexible work schedules or paid maternity or paternity leaves and these circumstances can positively influence the parent-child relationship. Informal organizations can consist of the parent’s social networks, such as close friends or relatives that can offer advice or friendship in the child’s life.
These relationships can provide a sense of trust and source of love in the life of the child. This system can also be observed in a way that will affect the child’s life negatively. For example, if the parents do not have close friends or a feeling of acceptance in the community, there has been shown to be an increased risk of child abuse and conflict within the family. The “Macrosystem” is a much broader system that consists of the cultural values, morals, customs, and resources in the community.
An example of this would be if a child attends a private school that closely monitors the behavior of the children and tries to instill moral values, the child might experience a more enjoyable time during their school years. Bronfenbrenner defined the ever-changing nature of a person’s environment to be the “Chronosystem”. He noted that there were many factors that can influence or change the circumstances of one’s life, which he called “Ecological Transitions”. “Ecological Transitions” could be any event such as starting college, getting married, getting divorced, graduating high school or college, becoming a parent, or retiring.
All of these instances could be considered “milestones” in someone ‘s life that can have a major impact in the routine or schedule one is familiar to. For the project, I chose to conduct an interview with my aunt, who is now forty-eight years old. In the interview, I asked her questions that would reveal what or who were the influences in her life and what were the major special events that occurred. I repeated the interview with her twice; the first to ask her about her life at the age of twenty-one and then again at the age of thirty-six.
I found that it was very interesting to interview my aunt about her experience at the age of twenty-one, only two years older than I am now. I tried to compare her influences, concerns, and experiences with mine and found that we are similar in many ways I was not aware of, but also very different in others. There were many factors in my aunt’s life that influenced where she is today in her life. When she was twenty-one, in the “Microsystem” level, three people that truly influenced her life at the time were my grandparents, Mimi and Papa, and my great grandmother, Mamette.
My aunt was extremely close to Mamette, and confided in her in many ways. Since all three were members of her close family, they would be considered part of this system and very crucial to her development at the time. My aunt told me after she graduated from college all she wanted to do was party and not find a job, and I found that these factors and this mindset were part of the “Mesosystem”. The fact that she was partying all the time, or her social life, was hindering her from finding a job and moving on from her college days.
Since the “Mesosystem” is essentially factors that influence other factors or circumstances, the fact that she had recently graduated from college made her feel like she had the right to party and not find a job. Another factor in her lack of diligence toward finding a job was that her parents did not put a lot of pressure on her to do so. Along with factors in the “Microsystem” and “Mesosystem”, the “Exosystem” in her life consisted of many influences that played a role in the crisis of no motivation and partying all the time.
One factor in this system was that many of her friends were getting jobs after they graduated college, and she knew that she should be searching for one, but the motivation was not there. Another factor was that she may have felt that she deserved to “have some time off” after working so hard in college. These examples are forms of informal organizations in the “Exosystem”. An example of a formal organization was that she applied for a job with the IRS and she was waiting for them to call her about her application.
She jokes during her interview that she would still be in that stage if she didn’t look for another job until the IRS called her back because its been twenty-seven years and they still haven’t called! The “Macrosystem” played a role in her development at that time also. She mentioned how life just seemed more “laid back” and “carefree”; times were easier and there was no terrorism (that she knew of). The culture was also more wholesome than it is now and the moral values of the country were at higher standards.
One strain of the country and the economy was the oil crisis that erupted during the 80’s. She remembers expensive gas and oil, and that the economy was not very strong during that time. As she reflected on this time of her life, she says that there were experiences during that time of her life that have an impact on her life now. Sometimes she wishes she could go back to that time of fun and “no worries”, but what was most important about that time of her life was the friendships she made. She’s learned life is not about a job, money, or objects, but about the relationships one makes along the way.
She has recently gone through a divorce, and she says that she could have never made it through that hard time without the friends she made in high school, college, her sorority, or even in the past couple years. The “Chronosystem” encompasses changes over time and how one develops over a lifetime. Her reflection and the amount she has grown as a person in the last couple decades is an example of the way a human can change and mature in this particular system. Next, I interviewed my aunt about her life when she was thirty-six years old and lived in Houston, TX.
She described this time as some of the best years of her life. Her son, Mike, was six years old and her daughter, Stacey, was only three. She reminisced about the neighborhood bar-b-ques, pig roasts, her amazing church, the kid’s summer camp, and great friends. During the interview I could tell that she truly longed to go back to this time. Her “Microsystem” level consisted of her best friends, Dana and Diane, and her Bible Study Fellowship leader, Gloria Day. These people truly shaped her life at the time and she was explaining how they still have an impact on her now.
Just the other day she talked to her friend, Dana, about her divorce, and she can see just how important these influences are in her life. The “Mesosystem” at this time consisted of the influence of the guidance she acquired in Bible Study Fellowship that helped her to be a better mother and spouse. Also, her church served as an outlet for her to find good friends that would hold her accountable and provide advice and companionship when she needed it most. In the “Exosystem” there were many areas in her life that socially provided experiences and interactions that would influence her at the time.
The formal organization of this level was the fact that she was a stay-at-home mom, giving her more time with her children and the ability to focus on being the best mother she could be. Another example of an informal organization would be her Bible Study Fellowship. Here she could make friends with the same beliefs and morals, and really gain a group that would provide great stability and accountability. The “Macrosystem” during this time consisted of a stimulated economy, the price of gas was cheap, and, again, there was no fear or worry of terrorism.
She noted how practically everyone in her neighborhood was an engineer. The stress that we now experience today of terrorist attacks and a failing economy was not present. I once again asked to reflect on her life at that time, and see how her experiences then have influenced her life now. This answer came to her much easier than when I asked her about the influence of her experiences when she was twenty-one. Her involvement in Bible Study Fellowship showed her how to have a relationship with Jesus Christ, and how to apply her study of the Bible to real life.
Her leader, Gloria Day, truly inspired her to grow in her walk with God and rely on Him for everything. She revealed in the interview how she had been going through some very tough times, and if she did not have the information she learned through Bible Study Fellowship, she would not have had the same optimistic and hopeful view of her struggles now. Over time, her walk with the Lord has gone through times when she was very close with Him, and times when she was not. In the “Chronosystem”, her relationship with God and her spiritual beliefs have been the defining factor of her inner strength as a person.
Along with her relationship with God, many major events, or “ecological transitions”, occurred from the time that she was twenty-one and thirty-six. For example, she found a job, got married, became a parent, and moved. All of these events can have an influence on one’s character and well-being. They can have a “rippling effect” in someone’s life, influencing many parts during one time. My aunt recalled that she absolutely hated moving, and they would stay in the same place for about three years.
She said the first year was always the hardest, the second year was better, and the third was when they were finally settled but then my uncle would have to move again for his job. The moving process always took a toll on her family and kids, never truly establishing a place for them to call “home”. Another “ecological transition” for her during this time was getting married. Marriage is definitely an adjustment and her decision in the man she chose to marry may not have necessarily been the right one. Nevertheless, changes that one experiences in their life require adjustment, or an “ecological transition”.
The “Microsystem”, “Mesosystem”, “Exosystem”, “Macrosystem”, and “Chronosystem” are the ecological systems in our lives that influence our character, morals, and decisions. From the time my aunt was twenty-one to thirty-six, the influences in her life changed drastically. Instead of being influenced by her parents and grandmother like when she was younger, she was more independent from her family and her close friends and studying God’s word had the most impact on her. Right after she graduated from college, she was not focused on “growing up” or finding a job, but mostly on partying and having a good time.
She matured greatly when she started a family, as she became more focused on others rather than herself. Virtually everything in her life changed when she had children, from her schedule to her priorities. As the influences and events in my aunt’s life changed over the years, so will mine when I am older. My ecological systems will always be transforming as I graduate college, get married, and eventually have children. Right now my life is focused around what is best for me; my education, social life, and health.
I am still dependent on my parents for guidance and support, but I am beginning to lean more on God’s will for my life and trusting in Him rather than advice from other people. After I graduate my “Mesosystem” will change, along with my “Exosystem”, “Macrosystem”, and “Chronosystem”. By acquiring the knowledge of how factors influence an individual, I will be able to truly examine what those factors are in my life and decide which are in my best interest. In conclusion, Studying Bronfenbrenner’s Ecological Systems Theory was very interesting and I feel it will be very helpful to know in my future teaching career.
When a child is misbehaving and is not performing to their best ability in school, I can look into their home life and see if there are any distractions or added stresses that could be hindering their academic performance. Also, I hope to provide a source of guidance and comfort for my students that extend past the realm of academics, but can better them as a person in the long run. Urie Bronfenbrenner was a brilliant man whose research and theories can help people have a better understanding about the influences in their lives and how to use them to their full advantage.

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