Family Factors Related to Emotional/Behavioral Disorders

By — Pearson Allyn Bacon Prentice Hall
Updated on Jul 20, 2010

In his description of the contexts of human development, Bronfenbrenner (1979) emphasizes the potential impact of the family on each learner. In a family in which there is responsiveness, reciprocity, and a mutual positive feeling, the learner is more likely to have a positive impact. Bronfenbrenner stresses the need for the developing individual to have a strong and enduring emotional attachment to another individual in order to facilitate learning and development. Several family factors may, then, have an impact on the individual to the extent that he or she may be identified as emotionally/behaviorally disordered.

Family Composition

Historically, a substantial number of children have spent all or part of their childhood in a one-parent household because of the death of a parent, divorce, or having an unmarried parent. Hernandez (1994) reports that 28% to 34% of Euro-American children born between 1920 and 1960 lived with one or no biological parents during their childhood. Based on projections of children born since 1980, he contends that 50% of Euro-American children may be living with one parent. Among African American children this figure may reach 80%. These projections are linked to an increase in the percentage of parents who divorce in Euro-American families, and an increase in the percentage of parents who divorce or never marry in African American families.

According to Bronfenbrenner (1970), the absence of a father in the family contributes to low motivation for achievement, inability to defer rewards, low self-esteem, susceptibility to group influence, and juvenile delinquency among children. These characteristics are more marked in boys than girls.

Bronfenbrenner (1970) describes the social changes that have occurred in families since World War II as "the unmaking of the American child." He argues that, for the most part, children are no longer brought up by their parents. For several reasons, actual responsibility for the upbringing of children has shifted away from the family to other settings in society. In past generations, families were larger, allowing for more natural child care practices and greater parent/child support. In addition, children were acquainted with a substantially greater number of adults in different walks of life and were more likely to be active participants in adult settings when they did enter them. Currently, children have a small circle of friends and often friendships are limited to child care settings, school bus or car, telephone contacts, and prearranged activities. Finally, parents simply do not spend as much time with their children as in previous generations. Bronfenbrenner suggests that if institutions in our society continue to remove parents, other adults, and older youth from active participation in the lives of children, and if the resulting vacuum is filled by the age-segregated peer group, we can anticipate increased alienation, indifference, antagonism, and violence on the part of the younger generation in all segments of our society, including middle-class and affluent children. If children have contact with only their own age-mates, there is a reduced possibility for learning culturally established patterns of cooperation and mutual concern.

Very young single mothers experience additional stressors. Prater (1992) contends that keeping single mothers in school and successful is essential to the welfare of their children. In her study of 10 African American adolescent mothers at risk of dropping out of school, Prater reports that several structures and strategies supported these mothers in their efforts to remain in school and be supportive of their babies. School-based clinics, with family-planning services, were essential. In addition, peer counseling and a network of positive role models were recommended. The mothers reported a high level of insensitivity from their teachers, who gave them little recognition for their unique roles as parenting students. Affordable day-care or baby-sitting services were essential, in that the intergenerational pattern of early pregnancy produced very young grandmothers who did not have the time, desire, or money to stay home and baby-sit their grandchildren.

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