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Analysis Paper one - Personal Development and the Ecological Model

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Analysis Paper One:

Personal Development and the Ecological Model

Amber Kingry

Liberty University


Urie Bronfenbrenner’s ecological theory of development revolves around the concept that an individual is impacted by several distinct relationships during their lifetime. According to this theory, these relationships are broken down into five levels that represent an individual’s five major interactions during their life; microsystem, mesosystem, exosystem, macrosystem, and chronosystem. These five systems are based on the ecological theory that these continually changing environmental systems impact the individual throughout childhood and into adulthood. This paper will demonstrate Bronfenbrenner’s ecological theory of development by looking at how it shaped this author’s development and influenced the direction that was taken in her life.

In addition to Bronfenbrenner’s ecological theory of development, this paper will apply the ‘At-Risk Tree’ metaphor in order to better understand the issues that this author was at risk for during her childhood and adolescent years and which influences impacted whether the author’s tree bore fruit or was barren. The ecological model and the At-Risk Tree metaphor will be presented in a parallel manner in order to give better perspective to how these two models are good indicators for detecting at risk influences in an individual’s development.

Analysis Paper One:

Personal Development and the Ecological Model

        Ever wondered how the world around us impacts how a child develops? Well, Urie Bronfenbrenner did and he proposed a concept called the Ecological Systems theory which holds that individuals grow and develop within five different levels of interacting systems (McWhirter, McWhirter, McWhirter, & McWhiter, 2013). These five levels of relationship are identified as the microsystem, mesosystem, exosystem, macrosystem, and the chronosystem with the individual at the center (McWhirter, et al., 2013). According to McWhirter, et al. (2013), “The model provides a good foundation to understand the impact of culture, politics, relationships, social interactions, and life experiences on the attitudes, behaviors, and competences of children, adolescences, and their families” (p. 21).

Another measure of the impact of these influences is the ‘At-Risk’ Tree model. This model utilizes the metaphor of a tree broken into sections to represent the different areas of an individual’s life and the influences that can place an individual at risk along with the interventions that can help prevent problems for the individual (McWhirter, et al., 2013). This paper will explore how both the ecological systems theory and the ‘At-Risk’ tree metaphor applies to this author’s life by examining each of the identified levels, the risk factors that are present in each one and the influence they had on the life course that was chosen.


The microsystem is the first level in Bronfenbrenner’s theory and correlates with ‘roots’ in the “At-Risk’ tree metaphor (McWhirter, et al., 2013). This system represents those relationships closest to an individual such as family and friends (McWhirter, et al., 2013). It is believed that this is the most influential level. Born into a military family, my family moved frequently and I never really stayed in any one place long enough to make any real close friends. My father was deployed to Vietnam when I was very young leaving my mother, brother and maternal grandmother as the biggest resource for nurturing and care. I looked up to my brother who often acted as my protector. Though we moved a lot, the military families would watch out for each other’s kids and help keep them out of trouble which was a positive influence in my life. When my father returned from war he was not the same so my parents divorced. Moving frequently, an absentee father who returns from war different, and divorce were evident risk factors or roots for the tree (McWhirter, et al., 2013).

After my parents divorced, my mother remarried another military man who retired and moved us to a small rural town in the mountains of Georgia. My environment was drastically different. I was taken from base life in a large port city to small town living where I was expected to embrace the traditions and customs of a large family I barely knew. My soil and roots changed adding another risk factor from the tree metaphor. Another risk factor that could not be seen from the surface was that I was being sexually abused by my new step-grandfather. This continued until I was fourteen years old. This had a huge influence on the early development of my sexual identity and beliefs regarding relationships with those who were supposed to love me. These beliefs and attitudes are part of the trunk of the ‘At-Risk’ tree (McWhirter, et al.). I tried to tell my mother once who slapped me and told me that I should never “tell stories” again. Clinton and Clark (2010) caution parents about the need to listen when children are trying to tell you about abuse and failure to do so can cause added harm to the child.


The second level of the ecological systems model is mesosystems. This level represents the interactions between different microsystems such as the individual’s parents and teachers (McWhirter, et al., 2013). I found reprieve in school and  my books. I loved my teachers and worked hard to excel to receive their approval. My mother encouraged me and came to my school functions. I found a safe environment at school and flourished there until high school when I suddenly did not fit in anymore. I withdrew within myself and when I did have interactions with others it was strained. There was a particular teacher in high school who took me under his wing. He taught me about Christ and grace. I did not come to Christ at that time but I often remembered and thought about the things that he said to me. This was a positive root relationship per the tree metaphor that impacted and influenced my developing attitudes regarding the world. The teacher acted as a gardener attempting to prune at-risk behaviors from my life by offering eternal life, love, forgiveness and acceptance (McWhirter, et al., 2013).


The third level of Bronfenbrenner’s ecological development system model are exosystems which account for the interactions between one or more distal influences that do not directly involve the individual such as public policy and politics (McWhirter, et al., 2013). I was in high school at about the same time that prayer was ordered removed from the school systems and was replaced with a moment of silence (Murray & Evans, 2000). The teacher that taught me and many other students about Christ was punished by the school board for violating the ‘no religion in school’ policy. This impacted me in a negative way by removing a positive influence from my life thus creating another risk factor.

This teacher treated me kindly when I became pregnant at sixteen so when he was removed from teaching, it devastated me. He had been one of the few people who had not judged me. Teen pregnancy is a risk factor that holds many problems so it should not be a surprise that I also dropped out of school my senior year. Both of these reactions are branches on the tree and reflect two of five branches identified as producing damaged fruit (McWhirter, et al., 2013).


The fourth level of the ecological development system is the macrosystem. According to McWhirter, et al. (2013) this system is the “social blueprint: cultural values, belief systems, societal structure, gender-role socialization, race relations, and national and international resources” (p. 24). Though teen pregnancy and dropping out of high school were common occurrences in the southern United States where I lived, the values and beliefs that I had developed in my earlier childhood when were an active military family made me feel shame and guilt (Weiss, 2010). I became depressed and desolate which are at risk factors per the tree metaphor. I married a military man who was not my unborn baby’s father and moved overseas to Germany. I did not know anyone and at seventeen I found myself alone with an infant and an abusive husband.


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