ENVIRONMENTAL EXPERIENCES IN EARLY CHILDHOOD 9
Lifespan development is complex and multifaceted because a closescrutiny of the different developmental theories that are availablereveals that none of them captures all the aspects and components ofpeople’s development. This means that the occurrences in people’slives and the potential of such occurrences to influence the lives ofindividuals are explainable through reference to varied theories. Thepurpose of this essay is to report and analyze findings of a face-toface interview with a seventeen year old final year high schoolstudent who was born in Russia, but who was adopted by parents wholive the United States when he was six years old. The analysisapplies the main theories of lifespan development to the Subject’scase and evaluates the extent to which positive and negativeexperiences influenced his development.
Basing on the responses recorded from the interview, theories ofcognitive development are highly relevant to the Subject’s life.According to Berger (2010), lifelong theories of cognitivedevelopment such as Piaget’s cognitive theory support informationprocessing. For example, it is stated that “children thinkmagically and poetically, using language to understand the world”(Berger, 2010, p. 23). The Subject noted that to him, one of thegreatest accomplishments so far is the education he has received.Basing on this, it is clear that the school environment has beenbeneficial for his cognitive development. He thinks he may not havehad a similar stable opportunity to learn if he had remained inRussia.
Apart from Piaget’s theory, Vygotsky’s theory is also applicableto the Subject’s case. According to Berger (2010), Vygotsky came upwith the sociocultural cognitive theory which suggests that socialrelationships and language are vital in cognitive development. In theSubject’s case, his experiences with English language acquisitionand social relations indeed influenced his development. The Subjectmanaged to learn English in the United States because when he wasadopted he did not know the language at all. His U.S. parents madesure that he attended good schools right from the time he wasadopted, and they also helped him at home to learn (The Subject,personal communication, October 11, 2014). The Subject also notedthat his educational helped him to gain knowledge that hasfacilitated better thinking.
Besides the outlined theories, the social learning theory is alsoapplicable to the Subject’s lifelong development. According toBerger (2010), this theory suggests that children’s behaviors areinfluenced by their immediate environments because “social learningis learning via observing others” (p. 132). In this case, theinterviewee’s life was influenced in both positive and negativeways through his experiences at the Russian orphanage. For example,the Subject stated that he remembers they were not given all theirmeals in the orphanage back in Russia, and some of the older childrenstole food whenever they had the chance (The Subject, personalcommunication, October 11, 2014). He also learned how to do so byobserving them, and when he was adopted, he would carry a lot of foodto his room (The Subject, personal communication, October 11, 2014).However, he stopped doing so after some time. The observations hemade may also be responsible for his zest for independence and hisinability to trust other people. Whatever he witnessed andexperienced at the orphanage affected his feelings and his thoughts.The attachment theory can also be used to explain his inability totrust other people. This is because Berger (2010) stated thataccording to the attachment theory, early attachments influence laterattachments in life. Poor attachments in early year of developmentlead to poor attachments later on in life.
When asked to state what he would change about his childhood if hewas to relive it, the Subject stated that he would like to have hissister back because she died while they were under the care of theorphanage. He stated that just six months after they were put intothe orphanage, his two year old sister fell sick and she was veryweak because she was not eating well. He noted that he even tried togive her his food but she died after she was taken to hospital. Whatthe Subject observed at the orphanage still affects him because histhoughts and feelings are still influenced by the negativeexperiences he and his sister went through at the orphanage.Reference to the social and cognitive theories clearly shows that theSubject behaviors, feelings, and thoughts were affected by what heexperienced and observed while he was a child. The early childhoodexperiences he had made it difficult for him to trust people and toconnect with them freely.
However, after his adoption, his experiences seem to have influencedhis development positively. Therefore, part of his cognitive andsocial experiences in his new home environment in the U.S. led topositive outcomes. The Subject stated that school has helped him tolearn because when he was adopted he had not attended any learninginstitution. He also stated that his adopted parents understand himand they support him. He noted that he was also sick when theyadopted him and they took care of him until he regained his health(The Subject, personal communication, October 11, 2014).
A close scrutiny of the Subject’s experiences also indicates thathis case is explainable through reference to the ecological system’stheory. According to Berger (2010), the ecological systems approachstates that the environment influences development. Clearly, theSubject had a childhood environment that affected his developmentnegatively after which he moved to a better environment whichimproved his development later on in life.
The Subject also stated that he does not have many friends in schoolbut he is fine with that. Perhaps this is influenced by his childhoodexperiences which made it difficult for him to trust other people.His focus on academic work could be explained through psychoanalysiswhich claims that without optimal reconciliation of childhoodconflicts, individuals could redirect their energies to otheractivities and this may include academic work. Moreover, the factthat he has never initiated any romantic relationship may have itsbasis on his inability to trust others or on his fear of rejectiondue to his childhood experiences.
The article by Fraley, Booth-LaForce, Roisman & Owen (2013)presents the findings of a study that relates to the summarized casebecause the researchers also investigated lifespan development. Theresearchers sought to answer a research question relating to howindividuals’ early attachment histories affect their attachmentstyles in early adulthood. By answering this question, theresearchers wanted to find out whether the characteristics of earlychildhood attachment affect individuals’ attachment styles lateron. This is applicable to the selected case because the presentedinterview findings show that the Subject’s early childhoodexperiences may have influenced his attachment style in adolescence.
Fraley, et al (2013) used the mixed methods approach to conduct thestudy. The researchers used interviews, surveys, and observations tocollect data. To collect the needed data, the researchers involved1364 participants who were selected in 1991 after they were born. Thelongitudinal study was thereafter conducted from the time when thechildren were one month old to when they were 18 years old. When theparticipants were 18 years old, they completed online surveys whichdepicted their attachment styles.
The findings of the study showed that the quality of children’senvironments affect their attachment styles during adulthood. Highquality childhood environments lead to better attachment styles lateron in life while poor quality childhood environments lead to poorattachment styles later on in life. For example, high levels ofmaternal sensitivity leads to better attachments later in life.Maternal depression and father absence may affect attachment stylesnegatively later on in life. Furthermore, Fraley, et al (2013)established that the environments in which children grow and theirearly attachments influence their social competence later on in life,and determine friendship quality. Poor attachments lead to poorsocial competence and poor friendship quality. Basing on theirfindings, Fraley, et al (2013) concluded that the attachment stylesmanifested in adulthood are influenced by individuals’ experiencesin the course of development. The findings of this study are relatedto the findings that were recorded when analyzing the interviewresponses given by the Subject. This demonstrates that indeed earlychildhood experiences influence development later on in life.
In conclusion, this discussion demonstrates that early childhoodenvironments determine the experiences that children go through, andtheir lifespan development. Positive childhood environments andexperiences influence development positively while negative onesinfluence development negatively. The major implication from thediscussion is that major stakeholders such as family members andcaregivers should strive to ensure that children have positivechildhood environments and experiences that facilitate development.The major implication for psychologists is that they should workclosely with other stakeholders to ensure children’s experiencesare positive, and they should support interventions that promotedevelopment.
Berger, K. S. (2010). Invitation to the Life Span (2nd ed).New York, NY: Worth Publishers.
Fraley, R. C., Booth-LaForce, C., Roisman, G. I., & Owen, M. T.(2013). Interpersonal and genetic origins of adult attachmentstyles: A longitudinal study from infancy to early adulthood.Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 1 – 22. doi:10.1037/a0031435
What would you say are your greatest accomplishments in life so far and why?
Education, because it has helped me to learn and it will help me to have a better life in future. I do not think this would have been possible in Russia where I was in an orphanage. Maybe the quality of education I received would have been bad.
In what ways would you say your lifelong educational context has influenced your thinking?
My parents took me to good schools where I learned English, but my parents also helped me to learn at home. Education has helped me to become a better thinker because of the knowledge I gained.
What would you say your negative childhood experiences taught you?
How to be independent/ to survive and not to trust people too much. I remember seeing other children stealing because they were not given their meals and I started stealing. When I was adopted I used to take food to my room but I stopped.
If you were re-live your childhood, what would you change about it, and why?
I would like to have his sister back because she died as a result of malnutrition and sickness six months after we were taken to the orphanage. I wish my sister had survived.
How do you think remaining in Russia would have affected your education?
If I had stayed in the orphanage maybe I would not have reached my current level of education. Maybe I would have run away.
What do you cherish the most about your childhood years?
The time I spent with my sister.
How would you say your social context has influenced your development?
I think that school and my parents have helped me a lot. My parents understand me and they don’t push me too much. This makes me work hard in school. My parents have never treated me like we were treated back in the orphanage. They adopted me even though I was very weak and sick, and they took care of me until I regained my health.
How would you describe your high school social relationships?
I do not have many friends. I am only close to two other boys, but I would not describe myself as a highly social person, but I am ok with that. We have similar academic interests, and other interests in social activities.
Have you ever had a girlfriend?
No I don’t have a girlfriend and I have never had one.
Apart from the parents who adopted you and brought you to the U.S., what or who would you say has influenced your development as an individual?
My close friends influenced my development because they study with me and they helped me to learn English by talking to me.