Urie Bronfenbrenner is frequently quoted for his idea that “every kid needs at least one adult who is crazy about him.” In this extract he develops the idea in a classic piece of writing well worth close reading by all who have anything to do with kids.
Proposition 1 In order to develop – intellectuaIly, emotionally, socially, and morally – a child requires participation in progressively more complex reciprocal activity, on a regular basis over an extended period in the child's life, with one or more persons with whom the child develops a strong, mutual, irrational, emotional attachment and who is committed to the child's well-being and development, preferably for life.
Proposition 2 The establishment of patterns of progressive interpersonal interaction under conditions of strong mutual attachment enhances the young child's responsiveness to other features of the immediate physical, social, and – in due course – symbolic environment that invite exploration, manipulation, elaboration and imagination. Such activities, in turn, also accelerate the child's psychological growth.
Proposition 3 The establishment and maintenance of patterns of progressively more complex interaction and emotional attachment between caregiver and child depend in substantial degree on the availability and involvement of another adult, a third party who assists, encourages, spells off, gives status to, and expresses admiration and affection for the person caring for and engaging in joint activity with the child.
Proposition 4 The effective functioning of child-rearing processes in the family and other child settings requires establishing ongoing patterns of exchange of information, two-way communication, mutual accommodation, and mutual trust between the principal settings in which children and their parents live their lives. These settings are the home, child-care programs, the school, and the parents' place of work.
Proposition 5 The effective functioning of child-rearing processes in the family and other child settings requires public policies and practices that provide place, time, stability, status, recognition, belief systems, customs, and actions in support of child-rearing activities not only on the part of parents, caregivers, teachers, and other professional personnel, but also relatives, friends, neighbors, co-workers, communities, and the major economic, social, and political institutions of the entire society.
Bronfenbrenner notes: "I am sometimes asked up to what age do these principles apply. The answer is debatable, but I would say anytime up to the age of, say, 99."
Bronfenbrenner, U. (1990) Discovering What Families Do, in Rebuilding the Nest: A New Commitment to the American Family. Family Service America, 1990.