A Cultural Perspective
Human Development is defined as the scientific study of the way people change and grow from conception to old age, to death (Ciccarelli & White, 2015). Child development pertains to the stages of birth till the last year as a teenager(Kyle & Carman, 2013). Personality, cognition, biological process and social interactions are all part of child development, and often are influenced by the socio-economic / cultural context in which one grows up in (Kyle & Carman, 2013).The study of human development ultimately leads to the very long debated question of whether it is nature (heredity inherited characteristics of personality, physical and intellectual growth) or nurture (social environment including parenting styles, physical surrounds and socioeconomic status) that is more important in how a person behaves and what they believe or value (Kyle & Carman, 2013).
Social influence is when the presence of other people influence one’s behavior, feelings, and thoughts, either directly or indirectly. Social influences play a large role in today’s culture, and therefore the criteria used to define a child’s development is not immune to cultural bias. Sociocultural perspective of child development suggests that one’s physical and mental health is the product of behavioral shaping within the context of one’s family, culture, and social group (Kyle & Carman, 2013) Most of our behavior is learned through social interaction, which is contingent upon societal value often embedded within one’s family unit (Ciccarelli & White, 2015).
Many psychologists and clinical researchers can agree the answers rest within the relationship between the two (Ciccarelli & White, 2015). Namely a specific area of study that examines this is behavior genetics, which looks at the relationship between familial heredity and personality to determine the genetic influence on personality traits (Ciccarelli & White, 2015). Twin and adoption studies concluded that in addition to a genetic inheritance such as chromosomal abnormality, genetics also impact personality traits (Ciccarelli & White, 2015). Therefore, it is fair to say that a child’s physical growth will be partially explained by the cultural in which they were raised(Kyle & Carman, 2013).
I will use the example of breastfeeding practices to illustrate how culture and family practices can have an influence on child development. There are specific cultural normal when it comes to parenting, specifically mothers and father’s view on breastfeeding. A parent’s understanding of what is healthy for their child’s development is contingent upon the dissemination of knowledge within that society (Kyle & Carman, 2013). For instance, in America the commercialization of formula as human milk and rise of women working had led from a cultural shift from breastfeeding to bottle-feeding(Ryan, Team, & Alexander, 2013). This practice reflected the needs of the modern woman and was seen as a claim to higher status, as the ability to not have to rely on the body to feed ones child indicated one had the means to afford “enhanced” feeding(Ryan et al., 2013). However, the recent literature over the last 2 decades has shown that formula feeding is not of a “higher” form of feeding as it has shown time and time again that breastfeeding a child will foster healthier development(Horta & Victora, 2013; Kyle & Carman, 2013; Mead, 2008).
Children, or rather specifically infants, do not have much of a choice in what they are being feed as they are reliant on their mother or caregiver for all survival. Children grow up and their accessibility to clean water and nourishment is specific to their social and physical context(Kyle & Carman, 2013). Child development is critically tied to caregiving and culture, a child from what is often referred to as the “third world” or “developing nations” have living conditions that are shown to dramatically and often negatively impact an infant’s physical, social and cognitive development (Stuebe, 2011(Horta & Victora, 2013; Kyle & Carman, 2013). Poverty is commonly associated with infant death and disease(Kyle & Carman, 2013). Several mothers-infant dyads from third-world nations are often at risk for contaminates in the mother’s milk that may actually lead to adverse effects. (Mead, 2008) Thus considering the cultural context a child lives in is vital, literally, for their well-being.
This is not the case for non-third world nations that differ from the US culturally. Due to lack of access to formula and passed down traditional values around breastfeeding several non-us countries commonly breastfeed. For several non-us countries (Ghana, India, and Peru), researchers have found that risk of mortality was 10 times greater in non-breastfed infant than predominately breastfed infants (Mead, 2008). In this case, the cultural practice of breastfeeding leads to healthier outcomes. Several mothers from this area that immigrate to America want to breastfeed as that is what is the cultural norm but do not have access to the support needed to do so, posing child and maternal health risks(Kyle & Carman, 2013; Mead, 2008). This is why the American Academy of Pediatrics and National Institute of Health have recently funded several hospitals and initiates that aim to increase breastfeeding rates by providing mothers with the necessary support to do so (Stuebe, 2011). Where as in non-us countries, women may rely on their mothers or other women close to them to help with breastfeeding; here in the US we seek out this support in form of lactation consultants (Stuebe, 2011). The health professionals that support breastfeeding, particularly lactation professionals have extensive training in cultural practices relating to feeding and parenting (Stuebe, 2011. This certainly plays a role in the effectiveness of promoting breastfeeding(Horta & Victora, 2013) in an American culture that does not value this practice despite their health benefits.
Ciccarelli, S.K., & White, N. (2015). Psychology: An exploration, 4th edition. Boston, MA: Pearson.
Horta, B. L., & Victora, C. G. (2013). Long-term effects of breastfeeding-a systematic review.
Kyle, T., & Carman, S. (2013). Essentials of Pediatric Nursing: Wolters Kluwer Health/Lippincott Williams & Wilkins.
Mead, M. N. (2008). Contaminants in Human Milk: Weighing the Risks against the Benefits of Breastfeeding. Environmental Health Perspectives, 116(10), A426-A434. Retrieved from http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2569122/
Ryan, K., Team, V., & Alexander, J. (2013). Expressionists of the twenty-first century: the commodification and commercialization of expressed breast milk. Med Anthropol, 32(5), 467-486. doi:10.1080/01459740.2013.768620
Stuebe, A., & Bonuck, K. (2011). What Predicts Intent to Breastfeed Exclusively? Breastfeeding Knowledge, Attitudes, and Beliefs in a Diverse Urban Population. Breastfeeding Medicine, 413-420.