When it comes to the weaknesses, strengths, and biases of Uri Bronfenbrenner's Ecological System Theory, what are the implications for helping professionals?

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Ashley Kannan | Middle School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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One of the most critical points in Bronfenbrenner's ecological systems theory is that human development is not devoid of context. Understanding how these contexts factor into the development of the human being is vitally important.  Depending on one's views, it could be a strength or weakness.  On one hand, it can be quite reductive to see nearly every aspect of being as a result of context.  At the same time, it can be quite liberating to understanding that human beings are the products of interaction with the systems that envelop them.  This is where biases, strengths, and weaknesses exist.  

A significant implication of Bronfenbrenner's theory for helping professionals is understanding how messages within these contexts must be concurrent.  A significant point of Bronfenbrenner's ecological systems model is that individual development is more thorough when there is convergence in belief systems. For example, challenges arise when the Microsystem of the home collides with normative behavior in the Mesosystem of school.  An example of this would be a child that is exposed to violent behavior at home as an acceptable means of communication coming to school and then interacting with others in a violent manner. Bronfenbrenner himself speaks to this:  "Development, it turns out, occurs through this process of progressively more complex exchange between a child and somebody else specially somebody who's crazy about that child."  For individuals in the helping fields, being able to fully grasp this "complex exchange" means sensing and articulating collisions between messages in ecological systems.  This is one way in which helping professionals can understand Bronfenbrenner's ecological systems theory and its impact on the individual.

Along these lines, Bronfenrenner's ecological systems theory allows the individual to understand context in understanding the individual.  Instead of reductive and sweeping judgments, individuals in the helping professions are able to understand the role that context plays within an individual's development.  As a result, a lack of development can be traced to a particular system.  Being able to recognize the messages being transmitted in this particular system and either supplementing it with messages accepted in other systems can become an intervention that those in the helping professions can offer.  In this way, Bronfenbrenner's theory of ecological systems is one whereby those in the helping professions can examine where divergence and potential breakdown in messages are being presented.  They can offer assistance and foster development as a response to it.

Bronfenbrenner's ecological system theory possesses implications in subjective and external levels. He understood that individuals in the helping professionals could embrace the transformative capacity on both levels:

In the planning and designing of new communities, housing projects, and urban renewal, the planners both public and private, need to give explicit consideration to the kind of world that is being created for the children who will be growing up in these settings. Particular attention should be given to the opportunities which the environment presents or precludes for involvement of children with persons both older and younger than themselves.

The hope for "new communities" and renewal is where the true implications of the ecological systems model exists for those in the helping professions.

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