There are mutual influences between an individual and their social environment. There are also at-risk factors involved in the life of a developing adolescent that interconnects with a series of reciprocal systems. I can recall as a developing adolescent quickly maturing into adulthood, the many social, economic, external and internal influences that contributed to certain at-risk behaviors. These type of influences impacted me directly and indirectly. I was influenced by the several environments I was in, and I also contributed to influencing the environment around me.
Attempting to exert control over uncontrollable circumstances only lead to desperate situations and weighty consequences. However, learning to accept my present circumstances, and how to appropriately respond to the hardship and temptations in life developed positive life changes. Individual human development occurs within interconnected and embedded ecological systems (McWhirter et al, 2013).
The ecological systems include the individual, the microsystem, the mesosystem, the exosystem, and macrosystem (McWhirter et al, 2013).
The individual consists of genetic and biological factors, and personality characteristics (McWhirter et al, 2013). The microsystem consists of the people that the individual comes into direct contact with and who the individual interacts with (McWhirter et al, 2013). The mesosystem is the embedded interconnections between different microsystems and the impact of the interactions that take place (McWhirter et al, 2013). The exosystem consists of the interconnections between one or more settings that indirectly involve the individual (McWhirter et al, 2013).
The macrosystem represents the social blueprint of cultural values, societal structure, gender-role socializations, race relations, belief systems, and national and international resources (McWhirter et al, 2013). The chronosystem is the interconnection and interaction of the individual within different environments, and is the transitions that occur during the course of the individual’s lifetime (McWhirter et al, 2013). These interconnecting systems are referred to as the ecological model, and assumes that the individual is continually interacting with his or her environment hat produces constant change due to mutual influences (McWhirter et al, 2013). Part A – The Ecological Model The core of who I really am involves the combinations of my genetic predispositions, evolutionary and biological components, personality characteristics, and the ongoing process of behavioral, cognitive, and affective experiences (McWhirter et al, 2013). Who I am has a lot to do with my experiences in life, my responses to life events, and the social and environmental influences and interactions involved.
The ecological model provides a greater understanding of how I influence my environment and my environment influences me. This is important because it is through the interactions of the ecological systems that help me better understand myself and others. The Individual. I entered the world with an umbilical cord wrapped around my neck, struggling to live due to insufficient oxygen intake. As a child I was very susceptible to illness. As an adult I discovered that I was living with an autoimmune disorder. I have very vivid fragmented memories as a child of several doctor office visits.
At the personal level, I was a very fearful, anxious, angry, socially withdrawn child who experienced an unstable, insecure, neglectful, abusive, and dysfunctional home environment. The structure of personality develops in childhood and continues to develop in adulthood (Caspi, Roberts & Shiner, 2005). I developed a combination of extraversion and introversion traits. These traits show themselves depending on how safe I determine the environment around me to be. As a child I experienced positive and negative emotionality.
I at times struggle with viewing the world as a safe place and occasionally viewed it as threatening. I experienced anxious distress with a tendency toward anxiety, sadness, insecurity, and guilt. As a teenager I experienced darker emotions such as anger, frustration, and irritation. I developed agreeable personality characteristics as a child. In adulthood I sometimes struggle with the fear of rejection, self-acceptance, people pleasing tendencies, self-awareness, and feeling comfortable in my surrounding environment and own skin.
I also developed a strong motivation to achieve academically, and have a strong sense of independence. As a child and through my teenage years I was not allowed to have an opinion or express individuality, which resulted in the inability or challenge to think on my own, questioning who I am through life stages, fearful of making decisions on my own and especially decisions I need to make on behalf of others, and codependency issues. The Microsystem. I grew up in a traditional family household for a time being that consisted of my mother, father, and sister.
Although, it was considered a traditional two parent household, my father was rarely home, and when he was home he was unavailable. My mother was emotionally unavailable and suffered from manic depression. My mother stayed at home and my father was either out working or pursuing one of his addictions. My family was homeless until I was the age of 5. We had lived and slept in my father’s suburban, randomly stayed with strangers, and at times lived in a recreational vehicle. I assumed responsibility and care of my younger sibling, my mother, myself, and household chores.
I entered the stages of maturity alone and without parental support. The lack of positive parenting during my adolescent years made me vulnerable to at-risk risk behaviors such as premarital sex, tobacco use, substance abuse, gang involvement and mental and social disorders (Clinton & Clark, 2010). At the age of ten I was removed from my parent’s custody and placed in foster care where my sibling and I were separated and placed in different homes. In the foster system I was only allowed to socialize at school, and attended church depending on whether or not my foster parents at the time deemed it necessary.
My sister and I went through several foster home placements which resulted in the loss of security, the loss of our personal possessions, and sense of belonging. Being bounced from home to home, it was difficult maintaining a close friendships with others. I developed an internal mechanism of being friendly with everyone, but not allowing myself to develop a close friendship with others. As I gained independence and freedom in my later teen years and early adulthood, I became more involved in church. The Mesosystem. I grew up in a rural community with a lack of parental involvement.
There were no real established mesosystem relationships. The environment was inconsistently positive and very negative at times. Since school was my outlet, I strived for academic excellence and successfully achieved it. School seemed to be the only sense of stability. The Exosystem. Outside agencies that developed policies and created public resources were an indirect benefit to me as an adolescent and young adult. During childhood, I was able to eat lunch at school, and enjoy extracurricular activities such as Campfire Girls, cheerleading, and Key Club.
I was given accessibility to the basic needs that my parents could not afford such as cloths, food, and shelter. As an adult, several community resources helped my daughter and escape and terminate a domestically violent relationship. The Macrosystem. During adolescence I was exposed to abuse, neglect, and violence first hand and via the television. My father grew up in the south and was very racist toward certain nationalities and races of people. The cultural context consisted of low socioeconomic status (SES), poverty, and experiencing our Native American ethnic background and being exposed to several conflicting belief systems.
I grew up on a culture where corporate punishment was an acceptable practice. The culture valued individuality, independence, and self-reliance. I grew up in poverty with a prevailing crime rate not as noticeable as it is today. Social norms included the overuse of antibiotics (McDonnell Norms Group, 2008), and the use of drugs and alcohol were socially acceptable. Chronosystem. A pattern of environmental events, transitions, and sociohistorical circumstances contributed to my development over my lifespan. Both of my parents lived disloyal and adulterous life styles.
Overtime, there unhealthy and dysfunctional patterns of relating to each other resulted in a separation. My father died when I was 17 years old. My parent’s marriage legally dissolved at the time of my father’s death. My mother remarried multiple times. My sister and I were exposed to their dysfunctional lifestyle, which tremendously impacted our lives. I personally, transitioned through many of life events by experiencing two divorces, being a single-mother of four children for quit sometime, remarrying and adjusting to a blended family, the loss of my oldest daughter, and facing the social political arena at work.
Part B – At-Risk Tree Metaphor The At-risk tree is an analogy that allows people to understand the range of issues involving at-risk adolescence (McWhirter et al, 2013). The soil of the tree represents the individual’s societal environment (McWhirter et al, 2013). The roots refer to family, school, and peer groups that connect the tree to the soil (McWhirter et al, 2013). The trunk represents the developing attitudes and behaviors of each child (McWhirter et al, 2013). The branches of the tree represent the attitudes and behaviors that lead to specific risk categories (McWhirter et al, 2013).
The soil of my family growing up consisted of poverty, low socioeconomic status (SES), judgmental and racist attitudes, abusive and neglectful home environment, and conflicting belief systems. The three primary roots are family, school, and peer groups (McWhirter et al, 2013). My parent’s inability to raise my sister and me in a loving, secure, stable, and nurturing environment, and expose us to family conflict, abuse, neglect, lack of parenting, being emotionally unavailable, and an unstructured home environment contributed to my dysfunction and the at-risk behaviors in my life.
The school system was unaware of our life circumstances and did not any support. My sister ended up dropping out and getting involved with drugs. I became sexually involved with my boyfriend at the age of 15 and became pregnant at the age of 16. My daughter gave me the drive to continue my education and succeed academically in order to provide her with a better life. I was withdrawn during my adolescence and teenage years. Although, I made intent to get along with everyone, I did not associate with everyone. The peer group I involved myself in strived for academic excellence and engaged in positive extracurricular activities.
The trunk of the at-risk tree representing my life consisted of low self-esteem, and depression. The branches of at-risk categories in my life were high-school dropout, substance abuse, risky sexual behaviors, and suicide. I was at risk for teen pregnancy and became pregnant at the age of sixteen. I succumbed to sexual activity with one partner in high school that resulted in teen pregnancy. I was very fortunate that at risk behaviors did not escalate. My tree was broken and bruised and produced damaged fruit. Instead of running to quick gratification I learned to run to God. I found my value and security in Christ.
My branches although bruised eventually healed and produced good, healthy fruit. It took a lot of effort, drive, motivation, will, and trusting God in the midst of temptation and hardship. I was fortunate to have a variety of Gardeners in my life from Christian counselors, law enforcement, human service workers, youth group leaders, Sunday school teachers, and church mentors who helped me redirect my lifestyle. I learned how to be academically successful, a loving, supportive, caring mother to my children, a hard worker of integrity, and to do the right thing when the wrong thing seems easier at the time being.