Children and Youth in Context

No one is an island…

The diagram to the left was developed by Betty Carter and Monica McGoldrick in their book The Expanded Life Cycle. It is meant to illustrate how no person, including children and youth, is an island. Children and youth are always embedded in larger contexts that are influential upon their development. While ideally, the inner circles–immediate and extended family–are support structures, they along with the larger circles can be a source of stress that will profoundly affect the development of a child or an adolescent. This diagram helps us understand that process.

The circles represent the different systems in a person’s life. While this is simplified, the larger circles can include faith perspectives and families of faith as well as special interest groups (e.g., Lions, Rotary, PEO, etc.) and political interest groups. The horizontal line marked “Time” indicates that these structures are always a part of our lives as we develop and mature.

The stressors embedded in this diagram are represented vertically and horizontally. The vertical stressors are things such as racism, sexism, poverty, etc. These issues can be a constant part of any society and depending upon how the social structure is configured, are issues that always present a problem. Children and youth must figure out ways to deal and cope with the stress these stressors create. Different age groups learn to cope differently with vertical stressors. Horizontal stressors are things like developmental cycles, unpredictable events and historical events. The family life cycle is an example of the developmental cycle as is individual developmental models such as the one developed by Eric Erickson. Unpredictable stressors are events like an unexpected death of a loved one or friend, chronic illness or an accident. Again, people at different ages and levels of development learn to cope with these stressors differently. Finally historical stressors are things like war, economic depression, natural disasters, etc. The common characteristic of events such as these is a loss of control, that the situation is bigger than us and we can’t fix it. These stressors are difficult enough for adults to deal with and make a dramatic impact upon the development of children and youth.

The period of time during which a child matures into an adolescent and an adolescent into an adult can be a very exciting and fun-filled time. It can also be a time of uncertainty where the uncertainty magnifies stress 100-fold. Ideally, the inner circles of immediate and extended family members can be a buffer during these times of uncertainty. Sometimes they are not regardless of how much effort loving parents, grandparents, etc. are there to help. During such times, families, youth and children may need some help. The biggest problem is that people tend to wait too long and the problems can become quite large. Don’t wait. If you need help, call us today.

If you would like to talk to us about our services for your children or youth, please click here.

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