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URIE BRONFENBRENNER

AND THE MILITARY CHILD

Mona M. Bonaparte

EDU 145-0001

1 March 2010
People see the Military Child and do not think of all the particular circumstances and

conditions that make the child who he or she is today. Often what is taken for granted is the

child being able to grow and develop on her own terms with the typical assistance of family,

teachers, neighbors, and such. That is where theorist like Urie Bronfenbrenner entered the scene

and say the child does not merely exist and cannot thrive without help and guidance. Rather, the

child’s existence determines the degree the rest of her immediate environment will become

involve in her growth and development.

Born in Moscow, Russia, on April 29, 1917, his family immigrated to the United States

when he was 6. He was not familiar with the way children were reared and educated in his

native land (Bronfenbrenner 1970). Yet, his inspiration on the ways society viewed children

came from his father’s work as a physician in a New York institution for the developmentally

disabled. The court system sent sound juvenile delinquents to the institution causing much

frustration in the elder Bronfenbrenner (Brendktro 2006). Out of this daily childhood scene the

seeds were sown that combined the unique streams all other social sciences had to offer---

psychology, sociology, anthropology, economics, political science, education---to emphasize the

value of the child, and a new field of study was born (Brendtro 2006, Lang 2005).

The field of ecological theory of human development was the literal ‘brainchild of Urie

Bronfenbrenner. Not only did he developed a concept that earned him a place with such notable

theorists in child development as Erik Erickson, Jean Piaget, Lev Vygotsky, and Sigmund Freud;

he laid the groundwork for policies to be established in the United Nations for the benefit of

children, as well as programs such as Head Start (which he co-founded). In other words, he took

his theories and made them practical for all to use, engage in, and benefit from (Lang 2005). It is

to this groundwork that laid out the basic principles to enhance the development of the military
child that this research paper will declare the virtues this theorist has established. It is to Urie

Bronfenbrenner and his unseen hand that we, the ‘military brat’, owe a debt of gratitude.

The bioecological approach, which had been renamed the ecological systems theory,

simply states that outside forces directly affects the development of the child. Like a rock or a

stone thrown in a pond producing a rippling effect, five ripples, or systems surround the child.

Each one are directly interconnected with the others, no one system is less potent or stands out

above the others. We will take this theory and look at each system closely to see how they have

become part and parcel of what makes the military child.

The military child (we will refer to her as Shelley) has in her immediate circle of

influence her parents, her teachers, her neighbors in the stairwell or cul-de-sac, the children in

the local playground or even at the school or daycare center. These people make up the

microsystem, the ones who are in a close relationship and spend a great deal of time with

Shelley. Her parents and teachers will be a permanent feature in her life. Early in her life,

Shelley must become aware of the hard truth, that everyone else will be around for awhile, about

the length of a tour of duty (three to four years, depending on the service her sponsor is a part

of).

It is important in this immediate setting for Shelley that one principle Bronfenbrenner

stated comes into play on a regular basis:

“Development….occurs through this process of progressively more complex


exchange between a child and somebody else---especially somebody who’s crazy about
that child.” (Bronfenbrenner 1991)

As Shelley grows older, her world intersects not only with other people, other entities

become part of her world. She is gradually introduced in her cognitive state to the mesosystem.
Interactions with different entities become the norm, even if they do not affect the child directly.

In this system are the extracurricular activities Shelley may become involved with that helps

make her a well-rounded child. The local chapel or other religious groups and activities play a

part of her family life. She is mature enough to run errands, so she knows the stores in the area,

and perhaps the proprietors and workers by name. In this system these various scenarios can

play out: Shelley created a disturbance at school, so her teacher calls her sponsor (the

servicemember) at work, who may in turn, contact the other parent, and that parent leaves home

or the workplace to show up at school. Mother has a hard day at work, so she comes home in a

sour mood and a headache, so she takes a nap before she can start fixing dinner, which will be a

bit late.

There is a larger system that does not affect Shelley directly, but as the adults have to

deal with these entities directly, they will eventually affect her. This is the exosystem, where the

parents workplace, the schools, the housing area coordinators, the sponsors units and base/post

commands, family programs, extended family, etc. come into play. All of these could be

employed like clockwork, or a well-run machinery the minute the sponsor receives orders to go

downrange. For the most part, Shelley gets directly involved with the exosystem the minute this

life-changing event occurs.

All of this in encased in the macrosystem. Various cultures, norms and laws support the

military child, her family, and the military community at large. As Shelley grows older and

approaches the critical stages of school-age levels, her parents will stress to her how they expect

her to behave while she is at school, at the YA (Youth Activities Center), and in the streets---

either by herself, or with her peers. Her actions may affect her sponsor, that is why she must be

aware of the laws and regulations that exist in the book for minors in the military, as well as what

local laws state and how the local authorities may play in the scheme of things.
Finally, the chronosystem envelops all of the above and dictates for a great length of time

how the military family functions in and out of the continental United States. The major issue

that helped developed the world of the military child and family was the Cold War that lasted for

more than five decades. Naturally, other factors may have colored and highlighted Shelley’s

world during her lifetime.

First, the political atmosphere, though unstable and constantly in a flux, have the ability

to hold the military in its grip. Next, regional and local attitudes toward foreigners in general

and Americans in particular may have dictated the limitation of exposure and the chance to make

good on enhancing one’s way of life. Finally (or next to it), worldwide events (weather, social

and political unrest, special highlights) brought home the awesome concept to Shelley’s young

mind: we all live here, and we’re all in this together. And, at long last (this is finally), the

unique experiences once played out overseas would not only expand and make complex

Shelley’s worldview, but would forever alter the outlook of her immediate surroundings. In

other words, if she had been living in a town the size of Fayetteville, she would expect to see a

decent transportation system, a much-needed sewer system, and a recycle system that would

minimize the city refuse.

By observing how the system was not working in the best interest of children, Urie

Bronfenbrenner worked tirelessly to insure the system will work for children. His bioecological

approach provided the means to guarantee children like Shelley an understanding of the world

around her. She will know she does not just exist to go through the motions; her life is

intricately designed to follow a pattern and an order which, with or without her full knowledge,

governs her every move in the direction of total fulfillment. She did not know at the tender age

of six how involved in her world she would be. Neither would she have any degree of hindsight

how this lifestyle would dictate the rest of her life; she just knows she is a better human being.
She is knowledgeable, well-rounded because of her exposure to the world and the times she lived

in and she knows now it’s all nurture, not nature, that made her who she is today.

The legacy Urie Bronfenbrenner left behind are generations of TCKs (Third-Culture

Kids) who would not trade their lives for the world, because his unspoken pattern played a huge

part in shaping their world and their outlook on life. I should know…but I don’t want to expose

myself….

WORKS CITED

Boemmel, Jennifer and Joan Briscoe. “Web Quest Project Theory Fact Sheet of Urie
Bronfenbrenner. National-Louis University, 9 May 2001. Web. 4 September 2009.

Brendtro, Larry K. “The Vision of Urie Bronfenbrenner: Adults Who Are Crazy About Kids.”
Reclaiming Children & Youth 15.3 (2006): 162-166. Academic Search Premier. EBSCO. Web.
8 Oct. 2009.
Bronfenbrenner, Urie. “Two Worlds of Childhood: U.S. and U.S.S.R.” New York: Russell Sage
Publication, 1970. Print.

Lang, Susan. “Urie Bronfenbrenner, father of Head Start program and pre-eminent ‘human
ecologist’, dies at age 88.” Cornell New Service. Ithaca, New York: Cornell University. 26
September 2005. Web. 4 September 2009.

Quotations from Urie Bronfenbrenner. Poemhunter.com Web. 4 September 2009.

Salkind, Neil J. “An Introduction to Theories of Human Development.” 35-38. Thousand Oaks,
CA: Sage Publication, Inc., 2004. Print.