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Analyzing the role of culture on developmental patterns in children is a very challenging task since it demands that a number of factors shaping a child’s personality and affecting his/her behavior should be taken into account. These are not only the interactions of a particular child with the rest of the kids but also the family background, the relationships with the child’s parents, the media that the child in question uses to acquire new information from, etc., that shapes the child’s behavior. Of all the aforementioned elements, the process of interaction must be the crucial one, which was the reason for a specific experiment to be conducted.
Two children, a boy, aged four and named Chris and a girl of 5 years old named Suzy, were observed on a daily basis in the course of four weeks (September 7, 201 – November 5, 2013) as they entered a completely new environment of a target group of children coming from a very conservative family background with apparent domination of chauvinist ideas.
The experiment results led to the conclusion that the development of a child is strongly affected by the child’s family background and culture as long as the child remains in touch with his/her culture; when exposed to communication with the children of his/her age belonging to another socio-cultural background, a child is most likely to assimilate and lose most of the behavioral specifics associated with his/her culture (Connery, John-Steiner & Marjanovic-Shane, 2010).
During the first week of communication between the participants of the experiment, the two children mentioned above, Mary and Bob, were introduced to a group of children belonging to conservative families. It should be noted that Mary was born and raised in a family of a single mother; in addition, Mary is a very initiative child who prefers active games and would instead choose the toys and games that are traditionally considered as the ones “for boys.” As a result, Mary was mocked by her female group mates, who displayed considerably more feminine behavioral patterns and preferred dolls.
Bob, in his turn, also faced a number of complexities. Raised in a different environment by a typical “soccer mother,” he never actually had to make any significant decisions and, as a result, lacked assertiveness. A quiet and bookish type, he was also picked on by the other children, which seemed to have made his behavior even more subdued.
The aforementioned reactions can be explained from the standpoint of several theories. As Keenan and Evans explain, according to Vygotsky, the cultural context defines people’s actions considerably: “To Vygotsky, development is a social process; social interactions are a necessary aspect of cognitive development” (Keenah & Evans, 1998, p. 44).
During the second week of observations, the children participating in the experiment showed the tendencies to change their environment somehow. Mary tried proving her point to the rest of the girls on several occasions by trying to get a hold of their toys and call them offensive names. In addition, Mary tried to prove her point by using physical force and nearly engaged in a fight. Bob, in his turn, clearly started to feel like an outcast, having the same responses from his peers as Mary did, yet showing no intention of fighting them back.
The given type of behavior can be explained from Bronfenbrenner’s social-ecological model standpoint (Shaffer, 2009, p. 87). Indeed, when considering the situation closer, one will see that the children have faced a different exosystem, while the microsystem and the macrosystem remained the same. The dissonance in the ideas that each of the aforementioned systems catered to them, therefore, triggered the reactions that made the children even more isolated from the rest of the group.
The third week, however, happened to be the pivoting point for the development of Bob’s relationships with the group of boys. In response to another provocation from the group, he nearly started a fight, which might seem way out of his character to anyone who knew him before. Despite the fact that the rest of the children were not entirely impressed with his outburst, they still started to pick on him less.
The tendencies that Bob and Mary showed in their behavioral patterns over the course of the fourth week could be described as the acceptance of the new behavioral standards and the willingness to comply with the demands of their new mini-society. Despite the fact that Mary, due to her unique upbringing and the specific environment in which she was brought up, was initially been trying to choose her own track by picking the toys that she considered most appealing to her, at the end of the experiment, she started selecting the toys that the rest of the girls preferred, such as dolls and plush toys.
Moreover, she stopped taking the initiative in active games and trying to become the leader of the team. Bob, in his turn, turned into an even more bookish type, becoming increasingly absorbed into his own realm and refusing to interact with the children around him; however, whenever he did, he seemed to be accepting the role that the society provided to him.
Despite his previous attempt at defending his position – or, to be more exact, because of the failure that the given endeavor resulted in – Bob clearly showed no signs of trying to be his old self again and started supporting the ideas that his group mates communicated. Although it would be quite a stretch to claim that Bob will maintain the given behavioral strategy for the rest of his life in the process of communication, it is safe to say that the given pattern will be repeated as long as Bob socializes with the children from the given group.
The results have shown that a child’s behavioral patterns depend on the child’s socio-cultural origin only as long as the child is reminded of it; when communicating with the children, who belong to a different background, the child in question is most likely to succumb to another behavioral pattern, which can be explained by the fear of being ostracized. It is remarkable that even the child who did not have a previous experience of not fitting in, Chris decided to change his manner of behavior as soon as he learned that in the given group, such behavioral patterns were unacceptable.
The given result shows that children might have an intuitive understanding of how society works even from their observations of other people interacting. It should be noted, though, that the given study had its limitations, the time related one being the most essential. Although child development goes at a breakneck pace, it would be unreasonable to expect that new behavioral patterns are going to be developed in the experiment participants over the course of four weeks.
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As for the time being, however, several strong tendencies in Mary and Bob’s behavior can be observed, such as Bob’s inclination to behaving more passively and Mary starting to take considerable interest in typical products for girls, like the rest of the girls in her group did, instead of playing with what was considered “the toys for boys.” It is also impressive that the smallest signals of a probable “revolt” from Bob’s side were spotted immediately and dealt with just as efficiently.
Therefore, it can be assumed that the environment shapes a child’s behavioral patterns and communication style a lot. Moreover, even belonging to a different culture, when integrating into a mini-community of other kids, children are most likely to accept the culture that the given community has created, no matter whether the former actually agree with its principles or not. Surprisingly enough, they do start agreeing with the fundamental postulates of the culture in question, as the given study shows.
Hence, it is crucial that the effects of the children’s original culture should be as tangible as the popular one; otherwise, children are most likely to lose the ties to their authentic community, which will create a significant gap between such children and their parents, leading to substantial family issues. In addition, it is essential that parents should teach their children to appreciate their culture and be able to defend their beliefs when being attacked by people who do not share their convictions.
The given study, however, raises the question of whether fighting social tendencies can actually be efficient or even worth trying, for that matter. On the one hand, the relation to a unique culture and the ability to identify oneself are essential qualities. On the other hand, living within a community means always putting oneself under the influence of the given community; therefore, an individual has to choose between accepting the values of the given society and being ostracized.
To maintain their status within the given mini-society, the children will have to either maneuver between their own convictions and the values that the given mini-society imposes on them or to accept the new values by denying the ones that can be related to their ethnicity or culture. Revolutionizing the mini-society in question and introducing their own set of importance to the rest of the children could also be considered an option unless there were the factors that predisposed the “rebels” success within the exosystem (Bronfenbrenner, 2005, p. 46).
Although the study has displayed rather upsetting results concerning the way in which society shapes children’s cultural preferences, convictions, and beliefs, it still offers a very detailed account of the way in which children build relationships with their peers within a particular society, as well as the ways in which various social trend affect children and their culture. Making it evident that, in fear of being ostracized, most children are likely to succumb to following the behavioral patterns foisted onto them by the members of the mini-society in question, the given experiment has shown that, with the help of parents and/or other family members, a child can not only retain his/her cultural values but also manage to compromise with the society by finding cultural points of contact with it.
Bronfenbrenner, U. (2005). Making human beings human: Bioecological perspectives on human development. Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE Publications.
Connery, M. C., John-Steiner, V. & Marjanovic-Shane, A. (2010). Vygotsky and creativity: A cultural-historical approach. New York, NY: Peter Lang Publications.
Keenah, T. & Evans, S. (1998). An introduction to child development. Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE.
Shaffer, D. R. (2009). Social and personality development (6th ed.). Belmont, CA: Cengage Learning.