Table of Contents
Why a family dynamic?
The Family Socialises
The Family Lifestyle
The Peer Relationship
Peer Group Formation
Television, Computers and Development
The School and Development
The family system is the primary context for the child’s development and undoubtedly has the greatest impact. The nature-nurture debate continues with regards the human development but this paper focuses its attention on the child’s development within its family dynamic; how the child learns to socialise within the family social system and how social issues in the broader sense impact on the child’s development.
Beyond the primary context of the family, social interactions in the child’s peer group and the schooling environment aid in moulding his social development. The impact of the school environment and peer group selection will be discussed in the course of this paper. In addition to the school environment, children make use of media devices and media input more than they did a decade ago and this may also have a profound impact on the child’s perceptions of themselves and the world around them; ultimately steering their development in a particular direction.
The importance and influence of family relationships, peer relationships and socialisation within these dynamics will dominate the content of this paper.
Why a family dynamic?
The purpose of the family unit, from its inception with our early ancestors, was and continues to be focused on ensuring the survival of the species. The introduction of offspring enhances the need for cohesion between the parents to safeguard the survival of the child and the continuation of the species. As an extension, the cohesion of the family unit will guarantee the survival of the extended society.
Survival of the society, and necessities for it to thrive include five important components, these are outlined in Berk (2000) and are listed as follows:
- Reproduction – allowing for the continued numbers in the society, mortality rates and kept stable with birth rates
- Economics – the society must manufacture and supply both goods and service
- Social order – this component ensures that ‘order’ in the society is maintained by reducing the level and incidence of conflict
- Socialisation – the children of the society need to be socialised by its older, wiser members to become participating members
- Emotional support – members of the society must function cohesively, offering support to its members when crises arise
As the nature of the family has changed with time, the concept of extended family changes and the family unit has morphed to include the father, mother and their offspring as a unit; no longer do we see households consisting of extended family members as part of the immediate unit.
The breakdown in the family unit has resulted in the function of the components for survival of the society being outsourced to institutions and organisations outside of the family unit. These structures include legal institutions, support providing institutions and religious institutions among others. The very nature of the child within the family unit has changed with time; during the time of our ancestors the child added a valuable role in the safeguarding of the society whether that was assisting in hunting or gathering of food, in modern times the child has become a financial liability for the parents (U.S. Department of Labor: 1999).
However, the family continues to perform some of the primary services for survival of the society in the form of reproduction, emotional support and socialisation of the child.
The dynamic nature of the family ensures that the behaviour and actions of its members have an impact on the other members of the family. These interactions will have both a direct and an indirect effect on the family members (Sameroff: 1994).
The responses that the child receives from his parent(s) determine his future behaviour. Firm parenting of children results in greater levels of compliance from the child; in response to the child’s compliance the parent is more likely to treat the child with gentleness and affection, this then promotes future compliance from the child. This suggestion is and exemplar of a direct influence that the two parties have on each other.
While family members have an obvious direct effect on each other, other family members can influence a child’s behaviour indirectly. The scourge of family violence has a profoundly negative effect on a child. Children are ill-equipped to cope with the animosity or aggression that manifests between parents. It is often the case that the siblings in the family band together to ‘protect’ each other from the family violence, in this way an older sibling often becomes a pseudo-parent and help to guide and nurture a younger sibling, this naturally helps to reduce the adverse effect of the violence on the younger child. There are numerous incidences of grandparents stepping in to protect the child by nurturing them in a more caring manner. These examples suggest that the family system can be influenced indirectly by extended members of the family unit or by other members within the family unit.
As the child grows through childhood, adolescence and into adulthood, the nature of the family dynamic is set to change. The parents will relate to the child differently at different stages of their development. A child will seek greater levels of independence as they grow and the parent(s) need to allow the boundaries to move accordingly to ensure that the family relationship grows in a positive manner. This process has the potential to create a very stress-filled environment if the parent refuses to negotiate the loosening of boundaries or the child refuses to compromise their will for independence. It can be a very tumultuous time in the family dynamic (Collins: 1997).
This potentially conflicted phase of the child’s development and the strain on the family dynamic seems to be more pronounced in the urban environment. Part of the problem may be the ‘fragmented’ nature of the family unit in the urban setup. When families develop in an urban setting they become more reliant on the community and its institutions to support the child’s development. In Berk (2000) the communities role in reducing the stress of rearing a child is discussed; the support offered by the community is outlined in the following four points:
- A supportive confidant – this suggests that a loyal, supportive neighbour or family friend is able to listen to the concerns of the parent and assist with a solution to a problem or merely confirm that the behaviour of the parent is appropriate and hence improve their parent-esteem
- Available services – support for parents and their children come in various forms in the community, these institutions offer a little relief from the stress of the multiple roles of the parent
- Role modelling – parents in the community often model correct or appropriate behaviour when dealing with their children and this offers suggestions and support for the parent having difficulties with their own child
- Community activities – child may become involved in social activities organised with the community that have a profoundly positive effect in their life; these include scouting organisations, hiking clubs, sports clubs etc.
Already it becomes apparent that there are more factors which affect a child’s development than the initial relationship with the primary care-giver and the family unit. The child learns to socialise with its immediate family and then its peers and eventually its greater community members.
The Family Socialises
The child learns to socialise in the family context and his development is a direct result of the manner in which he is brought up by his parents. The parents’ approach to how they deal with their child in a wide array of situations has a profound impact on the learnt behaviour of their child. The concept of modelled behaviour has significance in the world of psychology because it suggests that behaviour can be un-learnt, changed and re-learnt. The styles in child-rearing are no stranger to first year psychology students and will be briefly revisited here:
- Authoritative – this is undoubtedly the most desirable style of parenting and is characterised by age appropriate, reasonable demands being placed on the child at different stages of his development. Boundaries and limitations for behaviour are clearly outlined for the child as a guide to what is acceptable and unacceptable behaviour. The child is treated with respect and inappropriate behaviour is discussed with the child, again in an age-appropriate manner. The boundaries and limitations on behaviour are assigned in consultation with the child and the needs and feelings of both parents and the child are discussed and when necessary compromises are made. This approach leads to democratic decision making and research has suggested that the child reared in an authoritative home environment is more relaxed, confident and self-controlled. The work of Luster & McAdoo (1996) indicated that these children move into adulthood with a greater sense of moral maturity and higher levels of achievement and success in both the school environment and the working environment.
- Authoritarian – this style of parent is characterised by a lack of compromise. The parent sets down clear expectations for the child but these are usually beyond the scope of reasonable. The parent does not engage in a give-and-take approach at all. Extremely high expectations are usually not met by the child and in response the parent will ignore the child or deal out some punitive method of punishment. The freedom of discussion characteristic of the authoritative style is deliberately squashed in the authoritarian style. The focus is on doing things the way the parent wants them done. The child who grows up in an authoritarian household usually expresses his frustrations on those around him. Males are more prone to displays of aggression and defiance having grown up in this style of parenting. As the child moves into adolescence they have difficulty adjusting as their need for freedom and independence increases.
- Permissive – while this style of parenting displays unconditional acceptance for the child and their specific needs, it often comes at the expense of the parents’ needs. The permissive style is characterised by its lack of expectations for the child’s behaviour; these parents are continually justifying the child’s poor behaviour and ignoring the fact that no clear boundaries have been set for the child, neither are there clear expectations for behaviour. The anything-goes attitude to parenting results in a very immature adolescent. The adolescent is used to having their own way and when asked to compromise or complete a task that they would rather not; he will react with frustration and often hostility. Males in particular tend to grow up to be dependent, under-achievers. As these children move through adolescence they are more inclined towards drug use and promiscuous behaviour, simply because clear guidelines for morally appropriate behaviour have never been set down for them (Kurdek & Fine: 1994).