The traditional adage is that it takes an entire village to raise a child. In my case, this expression has a certain degree of validity. As I reminisce about my adolescence, there are a number of different experiences I have had which are directly related to my environment or surrounding ecosystem at the time. The best way to categorize this environment is in accordance to Bronfenbrennerâ€™s ecological systems theory, which includes a number of different stratifications for a childâ€™s milieu.
Contextualizing my teenage years through this psychological lens, as well as others such as social learning theory andPiagetâ€™s childhood cognitive development theory, I am able to clearly explain certain facets of my behavior and personality traits.
The crux of Bronfenbreenerâ€™s ecological systems theory is that there are a number of subtle layers to the overall ecology which influences people as they mature and age. The first of these is the immediate environment in which they live, which is termed the microsystem or micro level (Neal and Neal, 2013, p. 722). My microsystem was largely stable and included a home with my brother and parentsâ€”all of whom were older than me. Other than living in an apartment when we were first born, I always dwelled in a house. However, microsystemsâ€™ also encompass other aspects of living, such as the schools and daycare centers I attended. Other than these aspects of life, my microsystem also included all the time I spent playing soccerâ€”both during practice, at games, and traveling with my teammates to tournaments to play.
Perhaps more than any other aspect of my microsystem, my identity formation was forged by my time on the soccer field. Soccer was not just my favorite sport, but rather a primary point of identification between me and the external world. Part of it was my indoctrination into the outlaw culture which typified the lat 20th century America in which I was reared. Soccer was not nearly as popular as the three main sports in this country (which included football, basketball, and baseball), so I felt I was at variance with the mainstream in this respect. Moreover, within the actual competitive soccer field, my teammates and I were definitely pariahs. We did not all dress alike, wear the same warmup clothes before and after games, or even wear conventional clothing and name brands the way players on the other competitive teams did. We looked extremely disjointed during our warm-ups and, truth be told, we lost a fair amount of games. Still, no team could outtalk us during our losses or victories. We prided ourselves for stemming from the inner city, and reveled in our visual rebellion within the sport. Furthermore, as we transitioned from pre-adolescence to our early teens, we actually began winning games which added to our mystique and helped solidify my identity as somewhat of a social pariah.
My experience playing soccer not only was a critical component of my identity formation, but also reflective of some of the core principles of social learning theory. This theory is focused on the social factors which contribute to learning, and is partly predicated on the notion that people can learn from one another in social settings (Deeming and Johnson, 2009, p. 204). This theory can partly explain the camaraderie that formed between my soccer teammates and I. For instance, there were certain aspects of the outlaw motif which I learned from some of my teammates. What is extremely noteworthy about what I learned relates to the notion of modeling, a concept discussed at length by Banduras. The behavior that I learned from teammates I did not necessarily model. For instance, there was one of our team members who would drive a motorbike (prior to the age we could drive cars) to practice. I never aspired to drive a motorbike, have never ridden one in my life, yet I still appreciated the aesthetic. He looked cool mounting and dismounting the bike, and I certainly was better looking than waiting for oneâ€™s parents to come pick up one from practice.
Thus, although I did not model this particular facet of behavior, I still learned from it simply through observation and used it to reinforce my high valuation of a counter-cultural, outlaw type of motif to which I still readily identify today. There were other aspects of behavior during my adolescent years spent with my soccer team which produced a similar effectâ€”one which not only tied into the notion of identify formation, but was influential in my conception of alcohol and drug use. During a tour of Europe in which we partook in many tournaments (and won more games than we lost, I am proud to recollect), several of my teammates would engage in drinking alcohol during their free time. A couple of them would even smoke cigarettes. Again, I observed this behavior and internalized it, but did not model it. I never drank alcohol until I out of the house living in college and was 19 years old. The influence of my teammates behavior only reinforced my adolescent cosmology at the time, that it was cool and better to be socially deviantâ€”which for me meant being around behavior which is typically unacceptable. I had other friends that would recreationally indulge in alcohol and cigarette smoke at the time, and I was never pressured into trying it. There were always other things to do other than simply consume drugs and alcohol, and I had fun doing those things. Perhaps when I exceeded my teenage years these behaviors had a greater effect on me.
In part, social learning theory and my experience with my soccer team were so influential because of the junior high school and high school I attended, neither of which I liked. I attended school with affluent suburbanites who I was able to have fun with, yet never really considered the sort of people to pattern myself after. Another important layer of Bronfenbrennerâ€™s bioecological system is the mesosytem, which describes the various points of interactions between different facets of a childâ€™s microsystem (Christensen, 2016, p. 23). My family and in particular my father was instrumental in this regard. He was the means through which I was taken to school and picked up from soccer practice. He regularly participated in school field trips. I learned as much from his behavior in this regard as I did from anyone elseâ€”whether socially or otherwise. From him I learned a significant amount about family dynamics. The very notion of family was always extremely important to him, and I have adopted this trait as well. In fact, the camaraderie formed between my soccer teammates and I was perhaps an extension of this notion of family. Although we were not maudlin, we were close. Moreover, there are critical aspects of romantic relationships not pertaining to body image or sex which I learned from my father. He was always supportive of my mother in almost all of her pursuits. For instance, if she tried a new hairstyle, put on or lost weight, or tried a new occupation, he was always encouraging and supportive. In relationships in which I care about the other person, I try to do the same.
Actually, this trait which I developed from my family during my adolescence is demonstrative of some of the concepts Piaget advanced regarding cognitive development theory. Although this theory is applicable to children before they are teenagers, there are still some core tenets which are evinced during adolescence. Piaget believed that children learn through discovery and â€œactiveâ€ learning (Siegler and Ellis, 1996, p. 211) as opposed to passively learning. Watching my father demonstrate his support for his wife and strong familial ties was a means of my discovering the values of these approaches to romantic relationships and family. Furthermore, it was interactive because I could also support my mother in her pursuits the way my father did, enabling me to effectively join in what was a learning process for me.
It greatly appears to me that the integration of my surroundings which is important in childhood cognitive development theory for the learning process of the subject affected the way I dealt with diversity as a teen. As I noted before, my father was a good example for me in most areas of life. He worked in finance and had a large circle of friends which were racially and ethnically diverse. Yet he never focused on those points of distinction, but instead on the points of commonality related to fellowship and companionship. In this respect, what Bronfenbrenner terms the exosystem impacted my adolescence. The exosystem level of the ecological systems theory is that which indirectly influences the places in which the subject lives (Christensen, 2016, p. 23). For me, my fatherâ€™s job provided a diverse atmosphere in which he could thrive and embrace diversity. I saw this example of his on rare occasion when I went to a company picnic, but was aware that diversity was a fundamental part of life in the area in which we lived.
I encountered diversity at both my school and on my soccer team. I believe the exosystem affect of the diversity at my fatherâ€™s job slightly influenced my own responses to diversity. The team was racially, ethnically, religiously, and socio-economically diverse, yet that never stopped me from forming a significant bond with those guys who still visit me to this day in my dreams when I dream of playing. It seems that the exosystem which impacted my fatherâ€™s job is also related to Piagetâ€™s childhood development theory by serving as a source for integrating knowledge of my environment with myself. I was able to integrate the way my father embraced diversity in my own life to learn firsthand to deal with it in a positive, edifying way.
Ultimately, I was able to utilize this approach in my earliest encounters with sexuality and body image. I was attracted to girls of various races and body types. Moreover, I would frequently become attracted to them for different reasons. Some I liked to talk to, some I liked looking at, some smelled wonderfulâ€¦ My teenage sexuality never involved more than kissing, but my partners were integrated in accordance to the different layers affecting Bronfenbrennerâ€™s ecological system.
Deeming, P., Johnson, L. (2009). An application of Banduraâ€™s social learning theory: a new approach to deafblind support groups. Journal of the American Deafness & Rehabilitation Association (JADARA). 203-209.
Christensen, J. (2016). A critical reflection of Bronfenbrennerâ€™s development ecology model. Problems of education in the 21st century. 69, 22-28.
Neal, J. W., Neal, Z. (2013). Nested or networked? Future directions for ecological systems theory. Social Development. 22(4), 722-737.
Siegler, R. S., Ellis, S. (1996). Piaget on childhood. Psychological Science. 7(4), 211-215.
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