Human development research indicates that relatively stable, predictable sequences of growth and change occur in children during the first nine years of life (Katz 1995). Predictable changes occur in all domains of development, physical, emotional, social, language, and cognitive (Katz 1995). The ways that these changes are manifest and the meaning attached to them may vary in different cultural contexts. Bronfenbrenner as cited in Garbarino provides an ecological model for understanding human development. He explains that children’s development is best understood within the sociocultural context of the family, educational setting, community, and broader society (Garbarino 1985). These various contexts are interrelated, and all have an impact on the developing child.
For example, even a child in a loving, supportive family within a strong, healthy community is affected by the biases of the larger society, such as racism or sexism, and may show the effects of negative stereotyping and discrimination. The purpose of this paper is to show how culture can influence child development and why it is important for child service workers to have an understanding of the cultural background.
What is Culture? Culture is defined as the customary beliefs and patterns of and for behaviour, both explicit and implicit, that are passed on to future generations by the society they live in or by a social, religious, or ethnic group within it (WDBMR n. d). Sargent (1988) defines culture which also includes the socially shared and transmitted knowledge, values, beliefs and customs in a given society (Sargent 1988). Because culture is often discussed in the context of diversity or multiculturalism, people fail to recognize the powerful role that culture plays in influencing the development of all children (Sargent 1988). Every culture structures and interprets children’s behaviour and development. Rules of development are the same for all children, but social contexts shape children’s development into different configurations (Sargent 1988).
Social SystemAn almost infinite number of environmental or external factors affect a child’s development both adversely and positively. Bronfenbrenner’s theory disclosed by Garbarino, takes place in four different layers of the social system called microsystem, mesosystem, exosystem, and macrosystem (Garbarino 1985). Childhood development occurs within a complex system of relationships influenced by multiple levels of the surrounding environment, from immediate settings to broad cultural values, laws, and customs. Just as heredity plays a significant part in development, so does the child’s environment, a many layered set of influences that combine with one another to help or hinder the course of growth (Garbarino 1985). The microsystem is the highest level of environmental influence, which reflects general cultural attitudes and beliefs about the needs of children, for example, cultural values and life conditions affect the environments of children, as do political and economic conditions (Garbarino 1985).
Cultural FactorsChildhood teachers and service workers need to understand the influence of sociocultural contexts on learning, recognize children’s developing competence, and accept a variety of ways for children to express their developmental achievements. Teachers and service workers must also examine their own attitudes about working with a minority group that speaks a different language from their own and may not share the values of their own culture (Arbor 1998). The developmental problems of too many children from minority groups are not being identified or not dealt with effectively (Arbor 1988). Barriers of language or culture, and often poverty, mean parents are intimidated by the system, or even unaware of services available (Arbor 1988). Professionals who provide the services often find themselves being unsure how to cross the cultural divide (Arbor 1988).
Concerns about language and culture are especially important in early childhood. Many families raise their children bilingual. Families who do so raise their children bilingual for many different reasons (Rosenberg 1996). Parents who raise their children knowing two or more languages can give their children so many advantages in life (Rosenberg 1996). Bilingual kids have the advantage of knowing two cultures, of being able to communicate with a wider variety of people, and of possible economic advantages in their future (Rosenberg 1996). Research has even shown advantages in thinking skills among bilingual individuals (Rosenberg 1996).
However for some it can be a difficult experience where students are placed in classes where instruction is all in English while they are still learning the English language. Not only must they acquire grade-level language skills, they are also expected to learn the academic content and keep up with their English speaking peers (Warmoth 2001). It is important for Children service workers to be aware of these problems so they can help by simply recommending use of the overhead or blackboard extensively to help students take accurate notes and write words correctly. Use visuals as much as possible and provide students with good examples of the kind of work they are expected to do (Warmoth 2001). Culturally and linguistically diverse students, particularly are more likely to experience school failure when compared to other students (Warmoth 2001).
The cultural worldview of any particular society must be learned by its members. In order to become a functioning member of a particular society, a child must learn something about all or most of the dimensions of this richness and complexity within a remarkably short period of time. The importance of ethnic identity in coping with a variety of life situations, particularly those of a stressful nature, has been a major focus of current literature(Arbor 1998). Not only does culture effect the child development but continues through to adolescents. While identity development is a complex task for all adolescents, it is particularly complicated for adolescents belonging to ethnic groups (Arbor 1998). Adolescents, due to their membership both in an ethnic group and in the mainstream culture, face an extra problem with identity. The adolescent is caught between their parent’s ethnic beliefs and values, and that of the mainstream society (Arbor 1998). This causes extra stress, which adds to the already existing conflict of adolescent self-identity..
Hispanics are the fastest growing ethnic group in the U. S (Arbor 1998). Although the academic achievement levels and dropout rates for other racial and ethnic groups have improved in America over the past decade, hispanic school performance remains consistently poor (Arbor 1998). They are also one of the most educationally vulnerable minority groups in the U. S (Arbor 1998). They start kindergarten somewhat behind their peers, 44%, by age 13, are at least one year below expected grade level, and more than 40% drop out before completing high school (Arbor 1998). Throughout Hispanic culture there is a widespread belief in the absolute authority of the school and teachers. In many Latin American countries it is considered rude for a parent to intrude into the life of the school. Parents believe that it is the school’s job to educate and the parent’s job to nurture and that the two jobs do not mix.
A child who is well educated is one who has learned moral and ethical behaviour. Hispanics, as a whole, have strong family ties, believe in family loyalty, and have a collective orientation that supports community life. Culturally this is represented by an emphasis on warm, personalized styles of interaction, a relaxed sense of time, and a need for an informal atmosphere for communication (Arbor 1998). Given these preferences, a culture clash may result when Hispanic students and parents are confronted with the typical task-oriented style of most American teachers. In order to correct this situation, educators, such as service workers must understand cultural factors that may be acting as barriers to Hispanic children’s educational success and then devise approaches to help early childhood programs reach out to Hispanic parents and form partnerships with the home.
ConclusionAn almost infinite number of environmental or external factors affect a child’s development. Each child is a unique person with an individual pattern and timing of growth, as well as individual personality, temperament, learning style, and experiential and family background. All children have their own strengths, needs, and interests. This paper recognises some of the influences culture has on child development and the importance of the service worker in this process. All service workers need to understand the development changes and cultural values of children guiding their decisions and how best to support children’s learning and development during these development years.
Abor, A. (1998). University of Michigan: Culture in School. [on line] Available WWWhttp//wwwumich. edu/2newsunfi/releases/1998/jun1998r2385ahtmlGarbarino, J. (1985). Adolescent Development: An Ecological Perspective. Columbus, Ohio:
Charles E. Merrill Publishing Company.
Katz, L. G. (1995) Talks with teachers of young children. A collection. Norwood, NJ: Ablex PublishingRosenberg, M. (1996). Raising Bilingual Children [on line] Available WWWhttp://www. aitech. ac. jp/~iteslj/Articles/Rosenberg-Bilingual. htmlSargent, M. (1988). Learning To Belong In Society. In Sociology For Australians. Melbourne: Longman Chestire Pty Ltd.
Warmoth, A. (2001). Culture, Somas, and Human Development [on line] Available WWWhttp://www. Sonoma. edu/classes/psych490/spring2001/culture. htmlWorld Development Board- Multicultural Resources (N. D). [on line] Available http://WWW. wdb. org/multcult. htmlShow How Cultural Factors Can Influence Child Development And Why It Is Important For Children’s Services Workers To Have An Understanding Of The Cultural Background Of The Children With Whom They Work.