Community Contexts in Middle Childhood Physical Development
Communities vary in the support they provide for optimal physical, brain, and motor development in children. The most direct influence that communities have on development is through the resources made available to children and families. Resources vary in quantity and quality based on the earning power of the people who live in a given community. Children who are raised in low-income communities typically have access to fewer or poorer quality resources. For example, school-age children who live in low-income neighborhoods may be less likely to have access to proper medical care, proper nutrition, quality after-school care, parks, and playgrounds (Duncan & Brooks-Gunn, 2000; Leventhal & Brooks-Gunn, 2003a). All of these features could adversely affect the physical and motor development of the child, as well as general health.
In addition, poor neighborhoods are often characterized by social disorganization and violence. Studies have found that parents in high-risk neighborhoods manage their children’s free time either by keeping them at home (and out of danger) or by enrolling them in structured centers, thereby eliminating the possibility of their children participating in sports or other organized after-school activities (Furstenberg, Cook, Eccles, Elder, & Sameroff, 1999). Children who grow up in self-perceived dangerous neighborhoods also may experience more stress and more stress-related symptomology (Xue, Leventhal, Brooks-Gunn, & Earls, 2005). Researchers have found that these children have a much more pessimistic view of life, report a lessened ability to control their well-being, and tend to do more poorly in school (Garbarino, Hammond, Mercy, & Yung, 2004).
Children from some low-income families may be exposed less often to inside (e.g., reading books) and outside (e.g., trips to the library, museums, nature centers) learning opportunities that might facilitate brain development (Bradley & Corwyn, 2002). Children from low-income families also tend to go to poorer-quality schools that have fewer resources to offer to both low- and high-competency children. Researchers have reported that poor children were more likely to repeat a grade in school or to drop out, have a learning disability, or obtain lower grades in school (Duncan & Brooks-Gunn, 2000; McLoyd, 1998).
Homes, schools, and neighborhoods influence the physical growth and biological maturation of children. These different contexts, in turn, elicit and support different development at varying rates for each child. We need to continue to study children’s growth within these multiple settings so that we might understand the multiple pathways and definitions of eventual adult health and well-being.
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