Bronfenbrenner’s ecological theory of development describes development as a relationship between the environment and the person instead of two separate concepts. This multi-level theory breaks down environmental influences on development as “the microsystem, mesosystem, exosystem, and macrosystem” (Crandell, Crandell, & Zander, 2009). Each layer represents a variety of influences that shape each person’s developmental progression.
This ecological theory of development suggests that there’s not one single instance that effects our decisions in the path of life. Instead, a complex relationship between different environments is the cause for behavior. For example, a teenager chooses not to go to college. This decision is not solely based upon their family’s educational history or academic struggles in previous school settings. According to Bronfenbrenner, identifying behavior as being based upon simple factors, ignores the complex environmental interactions of school, peers, family, beliefs, religion, age, health, et cetera. These complex patterns of behavior cannot be identified as happening at one point in time. Instead, behavioral changes happen over time. This is also referred to as the chronosystem.
To elaborate on the various levels of this theory, picture a circle with four layers surrounding the individual. The microsystem is the layer directly outside of the individual. It consists of relationships such as the family, school, peers, neighborhood, church, and health services. These are the closest surrounding relationships that a person interacts with (Berk, 2000). At this level, the impact of interactions work two ways, toward the individual and away from the individual. For example, peers can have an impact on thought patterns or behaviors of a child. That same child can impact the thought patterns or behaviors of their peers.
The next layer, the mesosystem provides connections between elements of the microsystem and that of the exosystem. For example, connections between a child’s family and educational system occur at this level. It simply acts as a passageway to connect neighboring layers and comingle interactions between those layers.
Located outside of the mesosystem, the exosystem represents relationships that do not directly impact a person. Bronfenbrenner listed the extended family, educational system, legal services, government agencies, mass media, and friends of family. These categories have influence on a person’s life by interacting with components within the mesosystem (Beck, 2000). Although the relationship here is passive, there is a “positive or negative force involved with the interaction with a person’s system” (Paquette, 2001).
The last element of the ecological theory is the macrosystem. This layer is concerned with elements of a person’s society such as laws, cultural values, and customs (Berk, 2000). Categories of the macrosystem have an effect on all parts of the theory. An example of this would be “if it is the belief of the culture that parents should be soley responsible for raising their children, that culture is less likely to provide resources to help parents” (Paquette, 2001).
Given the multiple dynamics that create the features of each and every one of us, lifespan development can not be approached from a single system. All aspects, relationships, biological components and experiences must be taken into account to ensure a healthy progression from birth into adulthood.
Berk, L.E. (2000). Child Development (5th ed.) Boston: Ally and Bacon. 23-38
Crandell, T. L., Crandell, C. H., & Vander Zanden, J. W. (2009). Human development. New York, NY: McGraw-Hill Higher Education.
Paquette, D., (June, 2001).Bronfenbrenner’s Ecolological Systems Theory. Retrieved from http://pt3.nl.edu/paquetteryanwebquest.pdf
Below we will cover the life stages according to developmental theorists, Erik Erikson and Lawrence Kohlberg.
I. Trust vs. Mistrust: Birth to 18 Months
a) According to Erikson’s theory, people go through a series of crises throughout their development that must be overcome in order to successfully progress to the next stage. The first is trust vs. mistrust. During this stage, infants are relying on their parents for their needs to be met. When their needs are met they develop a trusting relationship with their caregiver. When the infant finds people to be undependable or have irregularity within their relationship, the infant learns that he/she cannot trust and therefore develops mistrust with the world around that will carry over into relationships later in life.
b) In comparison, Kohlberg would consider this level to be pre-conventional. Pre-conventional moral reasoning is a process of basing decisions upon either obedience and punishment (stage one) or upon their best interests (stage 2).
II. Autonomy vs. Shame & Doubt: 18 Months to 3 Years
a) The crisis at this stage is autonomy versus shame and doubt. Here, children have the ability to explore the world around. Children that are encouraged to explore and learn safely conquer autonomy and can deal with problems on their own. Those that are restricted from exploring feel shame and doubt about their own abilities.
b) In comparison, Kohlberg would consider this level to be pre-conventional. Pre-conventional moral reasoning is a process of basing decisions upon either obedience and punishment (stage one) or upon their best interests (stage 2). This level continues until adolescence or adulthood.
III. Initiative vs. Guilt: 3 to 5 Years
a) The issue at this stage is whether to take initiative in new tasks or guilt about their needs and desires (Bee & Boyd, 2009). This stage is a continuation of the previous by Erikson. When a child learns that goals can be met by taking initiative, this stage is successfully conquered. Yet if children are restricted in their independence, they begin to question themselves and can begin to develop negative self-esteem as a result.
b) In comparison, Kohlberg would consider this level to be pre-conventional. Pre-conventional moral reasoning is a process of basing decisions upon either obedience and punishment (stage one) or upon their best interests (stage 2). This level continues until adolescence or adulthood.
c) This stage can vary based upon cultural and ethnic factors. For example, some children may grow up in a cultural setting that does not enable them to explore their own independence. On the other end of the spectrum, some cultures give too much freedom to children.
The research finds that “play provides a vehicle for children to both develop and demonstrate knowledge, skills, concepts and dispositions (Dempsey & Frost, 1993; Isenberg & Quisenberry, 2002). With such an emphasis placed on play in Western societies, the presence of outdoor play is reduced from year to year based upon concern for the safety of children in this dangerous world. Overprotecting parenting stems from numerous safety issues such as street traffic, injury from bicycles or skateboards, or the issue of ‘stranger danger’ (Valentine & McKendrick, 1997). According to the developmental theorists, this restrictive behavior could prevent children from exploring and learning on their own leading to a lack of motivation and curiosity for trying new things in the world around.
IV. Industry vs. Inferiority: 5 to 13 Years
a) During late childhood, children are presented with the issue of competence. Here, more complex skills are learned, children are learning to be individuals and find their place in the world around. Children learn to develop and nurture their own talents. If not allowed by parents, they lose initiative and motivation in creating or participating in particular interests.
b) In comparison, Kohlberg would consider this level to be pre-conventional. Pre-conventional moral reasoning is a process of basing decisions upon both obedience and punishment (stage one) or upon their best interests (stage 2). This level continues until adolescence or adulthood.
V. Identity vs. Role Confusion: 13 to 24 Years
a) Who am I? Beginning in adolescence and lasting until early adulthood, people begin the stage of learning who they are as a person. They begin to think about their roles in the future. Successful completion of this stage includes a secure sense of identity, and “an emotional and deep awareness of who he or she is” (Stevens, 1983). Without that deep sense of identity, people can become confused about their place in the world.
b) In comparison, Kohlberg would consider this level to be considered the conventional level of moral reasoning. At this age and beyond, decisions are based upon the rights or wrong expected of society. Stage three seeks approval or disapproval from society by conformance or nonconformance to social standards. Stage four consists of maintaining the laws and social order of their society. Approval from others is not required in stage four, instead a personal stance in upholding the norms of a society are key.
VI. Intimacy vs. Isolation: 24 to 39 Years
a) After completion of ‘Identity vs. Role Confusion’, adults enter into ‘Intimacy versus isolation. During this stage, people search for intimate relationships and a lifelong partner. If successful intimate relationships are not found, people prepare themselves for the letdown of being alone. “Intimacy has a counterpart: Distantiation: the readiness to isolate and if necessary, to destroy those forces and people whose essence seems dangerous to our own, and whose territory seems to encroach on the extent of one’s intimate relations” (Erikson, 1950).
b) In comparison, Kohlberg would consider this level to be a combination of conventional and post-conventional morals. “In stage five (social contract driven), the world is viewed as holding different opinions, rights and values” (Unknown, 2012). The decision making in stage six concerns universal ethics and principles. Decisions are absolute and unrelated to the laws and rules of society. Instead, they are based upon what is right and just.
Bee, H. & Boyd, D. (2009). The Developing Child (12th ed). Boston, MA: Pearson. ISBN 978-0205685936.
Dempsey, J.D., & Frost, J.L. (1993). Play environments in early childhood education. In B. Spodek (Ed.), Handbook of research on the education of young children (pp. 306-312). New York: Macmillan.
Erikson, E.H. (1993) (1950). Childhood and Society. New York, NY: W.W. Norton & Company. p. 242. ISBN 978-0393310689.
Isenberg, J.P., & Quisenberry, N. (2002). Play: Essential for all children. Childhood Education, 79(1), 33-39.
Kohlberg, L. & Lickona, T. (1976). Moral stages and moralization: The cognitive –developmental approach. Moral Development and Behavior: Theory, Research and Social Issues. Holt, NY: Rinehart and Winston.
Little, H. (2009). Outdoor play: Does avoiding the risks reduce the benefits. Institute of Early Childhood, Macquarie University. Retrieved from http://www.earlychildhoodaustralia.org.au/australian_journal_of_early_childhood/ajec_index_abstracts/outdoor_play_does_avoiding_the_risks_reduce_the_benefits.html
Stevens, R. (1983). Erik Erikson: An Introduction, New Your, NY: St. Martin’s Press. pp 48-50. ISBN 978-0312258122.
Valentine, G., & McKendrick, J. (1997). Children’s outdoor play: Exploring parental concerns about children’s safety and the changing nature of childhood. Geoforum, 28(2), 219-235.
Unknown. (2012). Lawrence Kohlberg’s stages of moral development. Wikipedia. Retrieved from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lawrence_Kohlberg’s_stages_of_moral_development#Conventional
Angel M. Pumila
Self-esteem describes how a person views oneself either positively or negatively. People with higher levels of self-esteem tend to think good things about themselves. They are confident in their abilities and enter situations with a positive attitude. On the other hand, people with lower levels of self-esteem have a negative viewpoint about themselves and their abilities. They may enter into the same situations as people with high self-esteem, but people with low self-esteem expect a negative outcome based upon their concepts of self.
Self-esteem not only varies from person to person, but also from culture to culture. Evidence from the 1970’s shows that 90% of Americans claim to have high self-esteem. (Twenge, 2006; Twenge & Campbell, 2001). Among American men and women, women were found to be “slightly lower than men” (Baumeister & Bushman, 2008). Adolescent girls had the highest difference in self-esteem in the group studied. There’s was significantly lower due to a critical body image during that phase of life.
In Hong Kong, the view of self lies not on the concepts of beauty, status or achievements, but on dignity. They tend to ”preserve the sovereign self by not letting others define them” (Kim, Cohen, & Au, 2010). Studies show that people in Hong Kong are indifferent to the viewpoints of others. The way that people think of them, whether positive or negative, does not bother them. Instead, their self-esteem is measured on the dignity held by themselves and their family.
Not all cultures have a need for high levels of self esteem. According to a study done at the University of Pennsylvania, “the need for positive self-regard is not a universal, but rather is rooted in significant aspects of North American culture” (Heine, Lehman, & Markus, 1999). In this study, it was found that Japanese people put less emphasis on self-esteem and more on being self critical. Like those in Hong Kong, they do not view themselves in the same manner as Americans but instead, place more significance on finding ways to improve themselves.
By studying different cultures, it is found that different people have varying ways that they view themselves. This is taught from within the culture itself, either directly or indirectly, and passed from generation to generation. It is an essential element that should be studied and observed in order to fully understand the actions and mindsets of people with different cultural backgrounds.
Baumeister, R. F., & Bushman, B. J. (2008). Social psychology & human nature. Belmont, CA: Thomson Wadsworth. ISBN: 9780534638320.
Heine, Steven J.; Lehman, Darrin R.; Markus, Hazel Rose; Kitayama, Shinobu; Psychological Review, Vol 106(4), Oct, 1999. pp. 766-794.
Kim, Young-Hoon; Cohen, Dov; Au, Wing-Tung; Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, Vol 98(6), Jun, 2010. pp. 904-916.
A Changing American Workplace
Over the past few decades, the American workplace has changed dramatically due to an increase in cultural diversity. Increasingly, jobs traditionally held by white males are being filled by African Americans, Mexicans, Japanese and other cultures, as well as by women. Because of this shift in the workforce, companies have been forced to train employees to be competent in handling cultural diversity. Not only do multi-ethnicities play a role in today’s workplace, but gender, age, sexual preference and disabilities must also be considered when trying to cultivate a positive work environment. The following will address some of those differences and how they affect job performance, ways in which to manage cultural diversity and tools that can be used to develop cultural diversity competencies.
Diversity training in companies with more than one hundred employees has grown tremendously since the early 1990s when fifty-six percent of large companies reported that they found diversity training a necessary tool for teaching people how to communicate effectively with co-workers. Today, most companies with more than one hundred employees insist on this training. According to Bernardo M. Ferdman and Sari Einy Brody, who wrote “Models of Diversity Training” in the “Handbook of Intercultural Training,” there are several reasons that this training is necessary. It provides a moral imperative. It addresses legal and social issues, and it promotes the success of the business. Diversity training provides knowledge and information, increases awareness and understanding, changes negative behaviors and helps employees develop necessary skills that enable them to work together to be more productive. These authors note that training varies from company to company and facilitator to facilitator, so what one learns in one training session may differ from what others learn in another company’s session.
While America has always been considered a melting pot, the differences associated with what is now such a diverse society have become more complex over time. “The definitions of diversity in specific organizations, however, can range from those focused on race, gender, ethnicity and other group-based categorizations to those that encompass individual differences, lifestyles and job functions (Models of Diversity Training, p. 284). Individual lifestyle choices have become a major issue in recent years, especially in the military. In previous years, gay men and women were banned from serving their country because of their sexual preferences. The “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy established by law enable gays to enter the military, but they were not allowed to discuss their sexual preferences. In essence, the law does not promote diversity, it simply allows people who are different from the expected norm to serve as long as they don’t express themselves or allow anyone to know that they are gay. While this law was a step forward in that gays could now serve in the military, it leaves no room for tolerance or understanding, two of the qualities necessary to perform competently in the workplace.
Historically, discrimination, whether it is sexual, racist or multigenerational, has been a part of the very fabric of the American workplace. A barrage of lawsuits has forced today’s companies to take steps to ensure that employees do not experience discrimination of any kind. Employees now have to face the fact that while freedom of speech is protected in the First Amendment of the Constitution, freedom of speech at home is not the same as freedom of speech at work. Today, political correctness in the workplace is imperative. Employees must watch their actions and speech and develop sensitivity to those with whom they work. Racial slurs and sexual advances are no longer acceptable in this culturally diverse workplace.
“Proponents of the moral imperative argue that it is incumbent on the beneficiaries of this historical pattern of oppression, discrimination and bias to truly level the playing field in a way more consistent with the values of liberty, equality and justice. Leveling the playing field involves, in part, heightening awareness of the inequities and recognizing, for example, how the experiences of people of color and of white women have differed from those of white men” (Models of Diversity Training, p. 285). What Ferdman and Brody are explaining in this text is that understanding the history of others is an important step to realizing what is appropriate in the workplace. For example, an African American man has heard the stories from his forefathers about how his people were treated in fields across the South. They were called inappropriate names and forced to do hard labor. Because of these memories, the African American man will be especially sensitive to any name calling or perceived disrespect.
Ongoing training that focuses on tolerance, understanding, respect, sensitivity and emotional intelligence has changed the behaviors, as well as the mindsets of many in the American workplace. These competencies promote a healthy work environment conducive to productivity. When employees study ways in which to work with others to overcome cultural differences and to cognitively understand how these differences can be used to help their company succeed, the aforementioned competencies become second nature over time. “With continued training, however, the identification with one’s chosen profession transforms enforced conformity into personal commitment to one’s profession. An appropriate analogy could be how a child while growing up internalizes the values of its parents, or how individuals voluntarily endorse the religion or worldviews of their cultural group (Multicultural Counseling Competencies: Assessment, Education and Training; Donald B. Pope-Davis and Hardin L. K. Coleman, p. 5).
One example of a diverse workplace which requires tolerance and understanding is the grocery chain, Albertson’s. This chain hires disabled and mentally challenged people who may not work as fast or efficiently as employees without handicaps. Those employees without handicaps must learn how to effectively work with those with handicaps. Yelling, teasing or other inappropriate behaviors toward those that are mentally or physically challenged in the workplace is strictly forbidden, while encouragement, understanding and tolerance go a long way toward helping employees with handicaps to perform better and to feel more comfortable when they are at work. Through working with handicapped people, Albertson’s is teaching its non-handicapped employees the competencies necessary to function in a culturally diverse workplace.
There are numerous options available for those who wish to learn strategies that will help them in today’s workplace. Enrolling in a training program is one option. Choosing a mentor who exemplifies these principles can also be very helpful. Employees can model their behavior after those who display these qualities or ask for situational coaching or advice on how to handle situations that arise in the workplace. Many companies have numerous organization comprising employees from different genders, age groups, races and sexual orientations. It could be helpful to join an organization different from the one that would typically define the employee. For example, a Generation X employee could join an organization whose membership is primarily composed of older employees, or a white woman could join a group of mostly African Americans. These options can provide great learning experiences and promote understanding of each other.
In The Four Skills of Cultural Diversity Competence: A Process for Understanding and Practice, the author, Mikel Hogan, describes ways through which employees can develop effective dialogue and resolve conflicts. I could use his Four Skills Model to modify my behavior. I like the idea of taking a self-test to determine my strengths and weaknesses and identify ways in which I can improve my skills in the workplace. I could also make one pie chart to illustrate problems those from different cultures may have and another to demonstrate proper responses to those problems. Through utilizing these tools, I will be better able to make a positive impact not only on my co-workers but also on my company.
As a member of a multicultural and global society, I feel it is my obligation to try harder to understand others—why people who are from other cultures or mindsets think or react the way they do. Each race and gender has perspectives based on their individual histories, their environment, the circumstances of their lives and the places where they were born. I have always believed that we can learn to appreciate the differences of others through understanding and respect if we are willing to open our minds to other perspectives. “The presence of cultural minorities might push the majorities into reconsidering and reshaping who they are. It is not self-evident that these majorities would be willing the change the way they perceive themselves. The wishes of the minorities and the expectations of the majorities set the scene for acculturation to take place” (Cultural Diversity: Its Social Psychology, Xenia Chryssochoou, p. xxvii). As Chryssochoou suggests in his book, the workplace is the greatest avenue for changes in thinking and perceptions to take place, as cultural diversity in the workplace forces people to change. When understanding is present, discrimination is diminished and productivity increases.
Chryssochoou, X. (2004) Cultural Diversity: Its Social Psychology. Malden, MA: Blackwell Publishing.
Ferdman, B. and Brody, S. (1996). Models of Diversity Training in D. Landis and R.S. Bhagat Handbook of Intercultural Training (2nd ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.
Hogan, M. (2007). Four skills of cultural diversity competence: A process for understanding and practice (3rd ed.). Belmont, CA: Brooks/Cole Cengage Learning. ISBN: 9780495007791.
Pope-Davis, D. and Coleman, H. (1996) Multicultural Counseling Competencies: Assessment, Education and Training. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.
The Evolution of Morality
The term, morality, refers to “a system of beliefs or set of values relating to right conduct, against which behavior is judged to be acceptable or unacceptable” (VandenBos, 2007, p. 592). According to Kohlberg, this belief system is acquired through a gradual stage process in which one step must be successfully completed before entering another (Berk, 2012, p. 608).
Stage 1: Punishment and obedience
Stage 2: Individualism, instrumental purpose and exchange
Stage 3: Mutual interpersonal expectations, relationship conformity
Stage 4: Social system and conscience
Stage 5: Social contract and individual rights
Theorist, Marcia, found that a crisis and commitment model best described the means in which morality is acquired. For example, when an adolescent is faced with a new situation, previous values and experiences are reviewed and reevaluated to fit the current issue. The existing morals have been acquired through learning the values of one’s family and culture throughout childhood (Berk, 2012, p. 494). This relationship between parental morality and adolescent morality has been found positively correlated as a predictor for moral judgment of adolescents (White, 2004, p. 220). Reinforcement processes of acceptable behavior beginning in early childhood can explain this. Praise and support of positive behaviors teaches children what is valued within the family. Yet as we review a changing society over generations of time, we do see a change in values from one generation to the next.
Piaget claimed that development of morals occurs “as children act on, transform, and modify the world they live in” (Crandell, Crandell, & Vander Zanden, 2009, p. 238). This is true in both generational and social context of morality. For example, the morals of those born in the 1930s or 1960s in China are based upon the experiences of war and economic development that created values such as cultural obligations and honor (Lee, 2011, p. 383). Yet, as the following generation experienced less stressors and challenges, the need to reinforce older traditions fades away. Younger generations believe more in individualism than unity due to the less challenging experiences in their life.
In the United States, the past three generations (boomers; born between 1946 and 1963, millennials; born after 1976 and Xers; born between 1964 and 1976) have showed strong similarities in their moral values. Researcher, Cynthia Pavell (2012), studied this phenomenon and found that while the scores from all three generations were similar, some differences were found. For example, boomers placed a higher emphasis on individualism. “This generation grew up with the protests against the Vietnam War and the ‘age of peace and love’” (Pavell, 2012, p. 65). Meanwhile, Xers preferred more doing than thinking or being and stressed the important of leisure time. The author contributes this to the fact that more and more of this generation grew up in broken homes that relied on longer work hours to get by and viewed time off as a reward (Pavell, 2012, p. 66).
Each researcher provides valid arguments to the conception and evolution of moral standards. From birth through adulthood, we witness the change as the reasoning behind doing the right thing shifts from avoiding punishment, to preserving relationships, to conforming to social expectations. We find these values learned from our parents and modified as new experiences are encountered. Today, adolescents face a new set of moral challenges as the world rapidly changes into a more diverse and technologically advanced place. Their decisions about right and wrong set the foundation for the values of future generations to come.
Berk, L. E. (2012). Infants, children, and adolescents (7th ed.). Boston, MA: Allyn & Bacon.
Crandell, T. L., Crandell, C. H., & Vander Zanden, J. W. (2009). Human development (9th ed.). Boston, MA: McGraw-Hill Higher Education.
Lee, C. (2011). Learning to be a good parent across cultural and generational boundaries. Journal Of Moral Education, 40(3), 377-385. doi:10.1080/03057240.2011.596340
Pavell, C. (2012). U.S. Cross-Genrational Variations in Culturally-Oriented Value Systems. San Diego, CA: American Journal of Management. 12(1).
VandenBos, G. R. (Ed.). (2007). APA dictionary of psychology. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.
White, F. A., & Matawie, K. M. (2004). Parental Morality and Family Processes as Predictors of Adolescent Morality. Journal Of Child And Family Studies, 13(2), 219-233. doi:10.1023/B:JCFS.0000015709.81116.ce
Adoption & Identity
In the United States, a person that is adopted has very little legal rights to know the identity of their biological family. Closed adoption procedures require all information concerning an adoption to be sealed. This includes parental information, birth name, and even the correct date of birth listed on a birth certificate. While this system is currently changing, allowing for more information to be disclosed to adoptees, the process can be a source of frustration and emotional turmoil throughout their journey.
The subject of adoption was chosen as a discussion topic for personal reasons. I, myself, am not adopted, but I have been on a hunt for adoption information of someone very close to me for about two years now. I have found is that the search for information can seem nearly impossible and that the process itself becomes ingrained into the identity of some adoptees. “Grotevant has proposed that an initial state of unawareness or denial may be followed by disequilibrating experiences that can precipitate a crisis or exploration phase” (Kroger, 2007, p. 118). This cycle repeats itself over and over throughout the lifespan while the individual searches for exactly who they are and where they belong. However, the exploration is not owned by the adoptee but the laws tied to the adoption itself.
To shed light on these laws, I will share this journey. When my grandmother was 18 years old, she learned from her mother that she was adopted. Sixty-two years later the search for truth and circumstances surrounding her adoption remain, in part, a mystery. She has scoured through countless archives across the country over her lifetime to no avail. It wasn’t until she was in her 70’s that she finally found out who her biological father was through her cousin, who happened to be her half-brother. Back in 1935, her father was married and had an affair. He died shortly before my grandmother was born. Then her father’s sister adopted her. Yet, no information could be found about her birth mother.
My search has consisted of libraries, archives, Internet, d.n.a. tests, and now the court system. I discovered her adoption papers, and that the information in them is not the truth. The same applies for her birth certificate. Her birth name and actual date are still unknown today. The last step in this mystery is held in a court procedure by filing a motion for disclosure. Yet, the chances of this motion being approved are slim to none. In Louisiana, adoptees can only access identifying information in their adoption if it is of medical necessity, rights of an heir, or requested by both parties in the adoption. Since none of this applies, our day in court is faced with meager hopes.
This is the story of many adoptees searching for the source of their identity. Yet in some ways, it mirrors that of adolescents bound to a culture that they do not fully accept. “Adolescence is typically a time of experimentation and testing boundaries, but if you’re an Amish teenager, you’re faced with a confounding choice between family or isolation, tradition or the modern world, faith or uncertainty” (Wender, 2008). According to Brodubsky, there are three scenarios at the end of this search to find oneself; identity achievement, identity diffusion, or remaining foreclosed (Kroger, 2007, p 118). That is to say that a person either goes through a process to achieve identity, not question identity, or simply accept their identity as is.
Both Grotevant and Brodubsky explain the processes in which adolescents form their identity. Through crisis and exploration of the circumstances we come from and the world that surrounds us, we all search for our meaning. For some the quest is achieved, while others spend a lifetime fighting for the definition of their existence. Ethnicity, culture, adoption, careers, sexuality, and relocation are all common topics of exploration during adolescence. Resolution of these issues is dependent upon the experiences in our lives combined with social support and personality factors that lead to acceptance or the lack of acceptance
Kroger, J. (2007). Identity development: Adolescence through adulthood. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications. ISBN: 9780761929604.
Wender, S. & Escherich, K. (2008). The Outsiders: Teens Caught Between Freedom and Faith. Retrieved from http://abcnews.go.com/Primetime/story?id=5195105&page=1.
The Media’s Influence on Eating Disorders
Eating disorders, for many a result of marketing and advertising campaigns from companies that try to use sex appeal to sell products, affect millions of Americans and others around the world. “Eating disorders are more prevalent in industrialized and often Western cultures and are far more common among women than men” (Keel, 2006). This is due to the fact that cultural ideas of beauty are more centered around a woman’s weight and looks in Western cultures than in other parts of the world. Early history of eating disorders provides different motivations behind the self-starvation of Anorexia Nervosa (AN). In the 5th and 8th centuries, people with anorexia nervosa were viewed as being possessed by demons and curable by ritualistic exorcism. Later in the 12th century, cases of AN were found as a result of religious fasting. Today, anorexia is defined as a psychological disorder with the people affected in need of treatment.
Anorexia Nervosa typically involves excessive weight loss. Persons suffering from this condition view their bodies as distorted and experience irrational fears about gaining weight. Frequently, people with this condition will lose so much weight that their bones are showing, but they still see themselves as fatter than they should be. Anorexia is very unhealthy because people do not get enough vitamins when they do not eat, and their organs eventually begin shutting down. Numerous health concerns are associated with this condition, and sometimes, as in the case of pop singer, Karen Carpenter, death is the end result.
Bulimia occurs when a person consumes inordinate amounts of food in a short period of time before purging it from their bodies. Vomiting and the use of laxatives are the most common ways of purging, and sometimes persons with this disorder can repeat the purging cycle 20 or 30 times per day. Like anorexia, bulimics can suffer severe health consequences or even death. A fear of weight gain is the motivation behind purging, and again, persons with this disorder usually have an unrealistic and distorted view of their weight.
Obesity has become a worldwide epidemic. Statisticians estimate that there are more than one billion obese people in the world. What is commonly referred to as, “the battle of the bulge,” has become harder to fight with the convenience and availability of so many fatty foods and fast food restaurants. This availability is compounded by the fact that much of American society is centered around food. Characteristics of obesity include frequent episodes of eating what other people consider large quantities, lack of control while overeating or binging, eating rapidly and swallowing food quickly, eating when full, eating large amounts of food even when not hungry, eating alone out of embarrassment, feeling disgusted and distressed while overeating, and having a preference for refined carbohydrates and fatty foods.
Body dysmorphia is a condition in which a person views physical parts of their body as being disfigured or flawed, even when they are not. These people will go to many extremes, such as having plastic surgery to correct a flaw that doesn’t exist and sometimes having plastic surgery to correct the previous plastic surgery that wasn’t perfect enough. People affected with this condition tend to avoid social situations for fear of being seen and judged on their looks because they will always come up short.
Psychodynamic theorists base their theories upon internalized forces that govern human behavior. Sigmund Freud is a prime example. He believed that many behaviors stem from instinctual behavior, subconscious internalized experiences, and conscience decision making. The psychodynamic model of family influence claims that AN is a result of a mother inappropriately responding to the child’s hunger cues as an infant. “This mismatch between the infant’s needs and her mother’s responses impaired the development of the girl’s ability to interpret her own internal states” (Keel, 2009).
For many adolescent girls, AN is an unconscious need to be overly thin. According to this theory, the girl is powerless to fight against her own instinct to starve herself in an attempt to stay thin because she wasn’t equipped with the basic advantage of learning hunger cues. While many AN sufferers have overcome and won this battle, so many more do not. Their instincts overrule their conscious decision-making processes, and they cannot stop themselves from doing what comes so naturally to them.
The social learning model of family influence explains that AN is caused by learned behaviors and attitudes about food and body image from family members. For many in Western cultures, the fear of being fat is passed on from parents to children. While good health should be the issue discussed with regard to food, frequently the term “fat” is thrown around like fat is the worst thing a person could become. For those who grow up in these environments, their fear of becoming fat and therefore unlovable is stronger than their hunger pains or their good sense. These feeling are reinforced constantly in these environments where pressure is put on the girl to be skinny. Many parents do not realize what message they are giving their girls until a health issue with regard to an eating disorder materializes. Bulimia results when a person is deprived of the enjoyment of a simple meal by environmental influences, and the urge to binge becomes stronger and stronger, followed by feelings of guilt about eating abnormal amounts of food. This behavior becomes addictive, and before long becomes a health and emotional hazard. A by-product of this environment is criticism, which heaps low self-esteem onto the adolescent and perpetuates the cycle of the eating disorder.
Much research has been performed to determine the familial and social contributions to body image disturbances. It was found that children with fathers who were dissatisfied with their appearance, either feeling too thin or not fit enough, were more likely to have daughters with body image issues. “Parental behaviors such as over control of their child’s eating, together with later pressure from parents and peers to be thin, were related to higher levels of TBPSP” (Agras, Bryson, Hammer, & Kraemer, 2007) or thin body preoccupation and social pressure to be thin.
Lastly, the psychoanalytic model of family influence relates anorexia nervosa to a fear of sexual maturity. By starving themselves and not receiving adequate nutrition, girls would fall behind in sexual maturity and avoid developing into their mother. For many young girls, reaching sexual maturity is a frightening prospect, and by subconsciously stunting their own growth, they believe they are staving off what they fear the most. As with the other models, this behavioral pattern stems from an underlying emotional issue that must be resolved before progress can be made to stop the eating disorder.
Analysis of Current Media Initiatives
The media has an immense influence on eating disorders in young girls and women, in general. Television personalities, movie stars, commercial products, and models set the example of what it is to be beautiful. This gives a person an unrealistic role model as to how they should physically look and what is attractive within their society. When they do not appear that way or perceive a variance of appearance from the norm, psychological disturbances can occur.
Magazines such as Allure, Cosmopolitan, and Glamour, depict the preferred image of girls and women as being closer to a size 0, even though the average woman in America is a size 14. This image becomes what girls and women strive for to the point that they become dissatisfied with their body image and take drastic steps to improve. “Among girls, body dissatisfaction and eating disorders increase during and following puberty (Field, 1999), together with challenges to the experience of self, self-esteem, and mood (Erkut, Fields, Sing, & Marx, 1996).
Magazines such as these feature page after page of beautiful women, all as thin as possible, and tout them as role models that young women should aspire to be. Each gives diet tips and explains how to “lose 20 pounds in six weeks,” mostly with unattainable for the average woman or girl diet plans. Reading these magazines reinforces the idea that if you don’t look like these “ideal” women, you are lacking and need to do something about your appearance.
Some tabloids take it a step further with pictures of women in bikinis, some thin, some larger, and seem to make fun of the larger women, intimating that the larger women is not as worthy of admiration as the thinner woman. These magazines set the standard of beauty so high that most women are left wallowing in their own unattractiveness and wondering how they will ever be able to compete in a world filled with thin beauties.
Television sends girls the same message. For example, women and young girls feel an enormous pressure to be sexy, to feel that men desire them. Advertising on television has an incredibly adverse effect on many young girls simply because of the volume of ads that use sex appeal as a tool to sell and the amount of time most people spend watching television, which reinforces the message over and over and over. Victoria Secret advertising campaigns, which feature very thin models in bras and panties, send the message that these thin women are the sexiest and most desirable women in society. Young girls and young women who view these commercials and then look at themselves cannot ever measure up and are, therefore, not sexy enough until they look like these models. They mistakenly believe the subliminal message that men will not want them because they are not thin enough. For those with AN or bulimia, this message reinforces their need to starve themselves or binge and purge, while overweight women eat more and more because they feel their self-worth hits bottom when they see these advertisements.
Some men, as well, can lose their confidence when faced with ads touting virile men with six-pack abs as the epitome of what women want. And while some men do develop eating (and exercising) disorders as a result, women seem to be more emotional and more prone to be influenced by the advertising they view.
The media has determined what is sexy, from buxom, thin young girls begging viewing to call their 1-800 numbers for a sexy chat to beauties like Kate Hudson who hawk Cover Girl to women dying to become more attractive. Even Weight Watchers with celebrities like spokeswomen like Jennifer Hudson and NutriSystem using Marie Osmond, send the message that, “I was ugly, and now I’m pretty because I lost weight.” These messages make being too fat or too thin or not pretty enough difficult for any girl.
Movies are another source of bad karma for insecure women. Movie stars like Angelina Jolie, Julia Roberts and Gwyneth Paltrow, have become the standard for what is beautiful not only in America but around the world. While overweight women, like Queen Latifa, have become movie stars, these stars are few and far between. Queen Latifa usually plays comedic roles, while the other thinner stars who look great in the briefest of bikinis are portrayed as the sex symbols. It is only recently that Queen Latifa played a role in Just Wright that depicted an overweight woman winner the heart of a basketball star when a thinner woman was in the picture. This does show an effort by some movie makers to change the standard of what is beautiful to a degree, but these efforts are few and far between. And still, the young girl in the movie theater is receiving the same message as with other forms of media—you are not worthy unless you are thin and beautiful. It’s no wonder so many young girls succumb to the pressure and develop eating disorders.
As mentioned previously, the average woman in America is size 14. Back in the 1960s, the average woman was a size 8. Because of the changing diets of Americans, the introduction of more fatty foods, and lifestyle changes, including a faster-paced society which brought about fast food chains, the average weight and size of women has increased dramatically. Each year, more and more children and adults are added to the list of obese in America. Yet, the focus with advertisers still seems to be on obsessively thin women as the ideal and not on the health of an entire population.
An article published in the Journal of Consulting Psychology, Risk Factors for Obesity in Adolescent Girls, studied risk factors for obesity. Researchers sampled 496 adolescent girls in between the ages of 11 and 15 years old. Factors such as “dietary restraint, radical weight-control behaviors, depressive symptoms, and perceived parental obesity” (Stice, Presnell, Shaw, & Rhode, 2005) were measured. Interestingly, it was found that those that showed higher restraint on their diet at 11 to 15 years of age had an increased risk for obesity later in life.
There are emotional factors that perpetuate the cycle of obesity, as well. As a person becomes depressed about their body image, many times it is food that is used to console negative emotions. The public view of people struggling with obesity is that they are fat and lazy. This view not only has a psychological impact on people with obesity, but it contributes to the lack of support that this disorder has.
The answer lies in the self-esteem of each person who watches advertising on television or reads a magazine or goes to the movies. Environment, natural instincts and fear of sexuality all factor in to why people have eating disorders, but for most young women, self-esteem and a feeling of not quite measuring up to what is sexy and beautiful in the most influential factor in their eating disorders. The media can help this situation by changing the way in which it portrays beauty.
For example, there is not a person in the world who could say that Mother Theresa was not a beautiful person. She was not, however, considered a beauty. Her beauty came from within, from a place in her heart and soul and a willingness to give to others. Mother Theresa was beautiful, but not many women would aspire to look like Mother Theresa even though they recognize her innate beauty. I propose that many eating disorders could be stemmed if the media changed its ideal of beauty.
For example, Victoria Secret could feature ads for real women, women who are size 14 or larger, who would prance around looking seductive in sexy lingerie made just for them. While it must be said that companies like Fruit of the Loom have begun embracing this idea, not many people think of sexy when they think of Fruit of the Loom. Featuring average, everyday women who reflect life in America could go a long way toward changing the perception of what is sexy, and a new ideal—an ideal that every woman is beautiful no matter her size—could emerge if television got on board.
Magazines, too, could stop featuring only skinny women as role models for what women should be and feature the size 14 girl as just as sexy and attractive to men. Instead of focusing on diet and beauty, they could focus more on healthy living and eating habits. Instead of making fun of that overweight girl with cellulite, they could depict women as beautiful no matter what. I’m not suggesting that they promote obesity, I’m suggesting that they focus on health instead of diet, on substance instead on sexy.
Movies, too, should feature average sized women in prominent roles where the girl gets the guy because he’s attracted to who she is a person rather than the fact that she fits into a size 3 and has gigantic breasts. Showing average women getting the guy in the end could go a long way toward rebuilding the sagging self-esteem of women who just cannot compete in this world of too thin women who are the ideal of beauty. Showing women that who they are is more important than how they look is one way in which movies and all media outlets and advertising agencies could help stem what has become an epidemic for many women. Changing the perception of what is important in life is indeed the responsibility of the media who has mandated what is beautiful and what is not in American society.
And while the media alone cannot be blamed for the problems of women, the role of the media has become so large today that it certainly must accept the challenge to help women feel better about themselves and thus help them to become healthier and happier.
Agras, Bryson, Hammer, and Kraemer’s 2007 article, “Childhood Risk Factors for Thin Body Preoccupation and Social Pressure to Be Thin” from Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, volume 46, issue 2, pages 171–178.Keel, P. (2006). Eating Disorders. Pearson Prentice Hall, Inc.
Erkut, S., Fields, J. P., Sing, R., & Marx, F. (1996). Diversity in girls’ experiences: Feeling good about who you are. In B.Leadbeater & N.Way (Eds.), Urban girls:Resisting stereotypes, creating identities (pp. 53–64). New York: New York University Press.French, S.A., Jeffery, R.W., Forster, J.L., McGovern, P.G., Kelder, S.H., & Baxter, J.E. (1994). Predictors of weight change over two years among a population of working adults: The Healthy Worker Project. International Journal of Obesity, 18, 145-154.
Field, A. E., Camargo, C. A., Taylor, C. B., Berkey, C. S., Frazier, L., Gillman, M. W., & Colditz, G. A. (1999). Overweight, weight concerns, and bulimic behaviors among girls and boys. Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, 38, 754–760.
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