It is tempting to focus completely on an individual when studying that person’s development. After all, as the topic of study, he or she should contain a wealth of information about his or her former development. However, that is not necessarily the case. From birth to death, many external factors, most of them outside of the individual’s control, come together to shape a person’s personal, cognitive, and social growth. In studying these outside factors, a more complete knowledge of the person’s development is known than can be learned by simply studying that person alone.
In no case is this clearer than in my own development. I was born on March 2, 1998 in a small city in southwestern Michigan. Before I was born, my parents made the decision to homeschool me and any siblings I might have as soon as possible, instead of waiting until I was preschool-aged to start school. They wanted to make sure I had an educational advantage and provided me with as many educational resources, books, and cognitively stimulating toys as the could from a very young age. This resulted in me learning to read by the time I was 18 months old or so.
By the time I was 2, I could read at around a kindergarten level. Because my parents did not have access to the advanced learning programs available in expensive preschools, they took advantage of daily occurrences as a chance to teach basic concepts. A simple trip to the bank became an opportunity to teach me about the concepts of money and currency math; road signs and license plates tested my knowledge of basic geography and reading. They took me to the library regularly and never hesitated to answer any question I might have.
During early childhood, the teaching efforts of my parents, the resources they provided, and the verbal and emotional support they showed me helped my cognitive development immensely. Research shows that children’s home environments are extremely indicative of their performance in kindergarten and their future academic careers. This is not only because parents can encourage skills like word recognition and simple arithmetic, but also because they can encourage favorable attitudes towards learning. My parents modelled educational behaviors and inspired me love learning.
When I observed them working on their schoolwork or reading around the house, I mimicked their behavior. Additionally, from a young age, they never failed to support my love for learning. These influences are in large part responsible for my advanced academic performance later in my life (Nelson 2005). Though my educational future was sound, not everything in my life followed that course. When I was born, my parents were poor college students, so I went from the hospital to their small, campus-provided apartment.
For much of my childhood we were rather poor, at one point relying on federal assistance programs for help buying groceries. When I was about seven, my family moved from the quiet college town where we had been living, to a city with considerably more violence. Petty crime plagued the town; theft and burglary were seemingly a way of life. Everything about these circumstances were unfavorable. Before I loved playing outside and befriending anyone, from strangers to neighbor kids. But after the move, I became a wary, anxious child.
The threat of violence was reinforced by sirens, frequent burglarizing of our home, and gunshots heard around the neighborhood. These emotions had physiological and emotional implications. The work of Walker, et al. (2011) show the impact these stresses can have on a child. The children they studied had issues with emotional regulation and stress adaptation; their bodies were constantly flooded with cortisol as a result of their tumultuous and uncertain environments. I myself had trouble sleeping and frequently complained of nonspecific aches and pains.
My body and mood were noticeably changed. Coming from a low-income family and being raised around violence is a significant negative influence on a child’s emotional and cognitive development. Nevertheless, research also shows how interventions can mitigate and even reverse the severity of these risk factors. My parents remained supportive throughout the entire experience and moved as soon as they could. They continued to enhance my educational experience at home and tried to make me feel as safe as possible.
I was the benefactor of so called “protective factors” (Walker et al. , 2011, p. 1333) like breastfeeding and parents who were educated and committed to making sure I would be also. The work of my parents prevented me from realizing the negative effects of these risk factors, namely lower academic performance and aggressive behavior which can lead to juvenile delinquency and eventual institutionalization (Walker et al. , 2011). My parents did not only have a positive effect on my cognitive development. They were actively involved in my biological development too.
While my mother was pregnant with me, she made sure to closely follow all the doctor’s advice regarding her care and maintained healthy nutrition and activity levels. Continuing through my early childhood, my parents saw to my every physical need. I had the normal vaccination schedule, adequate nutrition, and was encouraged to engage in physical activity. As a result, my physical development was quite normal. My brain, motor skills, and physical attributes are all within what is expected for my age group.
The month I turned 10, 1 moved from my negative surroundings to much better ones. My new home was in a safe, rural neighborhood and much of my eroded trust was repaired in that environment. However, around this age I began to develop migraines. This did not come as a surprise; genetically, I was at a very high risk. My father, grandmother, and greatgrandmother all suffered from migraine headaches, and though there are environmental factors that can predispose someone to migraines, genetic vulnerability is widely considered a primary cause for the syndrome (Russell, 2008).
This change in my body had an intense effect on me. Whenever I had migraine attacks, I had to rest to recover from them. This meant I had to forgo playing with friends and overall I missed out on a lot of al childhood activities. To a degree, this made me feel like a social outsider. My friends could not understand why I could not consistently spend time with them or why I would have to cancel plans because of my migraines. This ultimately led to a degree of social rejection. The social rejection I experienced because of my migraines had a profound impact on me.
I did not initially have many friends in middle childhood and early adolescence. I was new to the area and found it difficult to form relationships. Many of my classmates had known each other since preschool and were leery of allowing an outsider into their social circles. I was one of the few persons of color at my school and I was also from a much lower socioeconomic background than most of my classmates, which only served to further my loneliness. This early peer rejection led to much of my social isolation and antisocial behavior in adolescence (Pedersen, Vitaro, Barker, & Borge, 2007).
This social situation put me at risk for maladaptive coping mechanisms like aggression and depressive thoughts. Instead of those behaviors however, I focused on school, which had a substantial impact on my emotional and social development. Strong support from teachers increased my self-esteem and gave me confidence in my intellectual abilities. Their encouragement served to motivate to dedicate even more of myself to my studies.
And though my self-esteem dropped sharply and the beginning of puberty, as I enter adulthood it has continued to rise, in no small part due to the work of those eachers (Helm, 2007). On this current trajectory, as I continue to mature and develop socially and emotionally, my self-esteem should continue to increase (Robins, & Trzesniewski, 2005). My entire life, my father has been an evangelical pastor. As a result, I was raised in a religious environment and much of my cultural influence came from being around church and churchrelated activities as a kid. My spiritual development has largely followed the trajectory of my cognitive development. When I was young, in the sensorimotor stage, I did not really understand spirituality at all.
My understanding was linked solely to the things I could objectively experience. An abstract concept like spirituality did not even occur to me. As a grew older and passed through preoperational thought to concrete operational thinking, I was more easily able to comprehend the idea of spirituality. However, much of my understanding was still linked to the social constructs that surrounded me all my life instead of “the abstract principles that govern the behaviors” so important to those constructs (Cartwright, 2001, p. 218). Now I find myself somewhere between the formal and post-formal stages of cognitive and spiritual development.
While I can adhere to logical reviews of both cognitive and spiritual situations, I still struggle at times to separate my personal values and ideas from the cultural ideas that drove my thinking for so long (Cartwright, 2001). My parents are immigrants from the West Indies, making me a first-generation American. Consequently, though I was born in this country, I was not raised as a typical American. My parents made sure to instill in me the cultural values and beliefs of their countries. Practically from birth, I have had a dual education, both in the culture of America and in the constructs of AfroCaribbean culture.
They instilled in me a love for hard work and an appreciation for everything I have. They always motivated me to do my best in everything I tried, especially because many of the opportunities available to me were never available to them. These values shaped my development and are still a critical part of my personality today. The hardworking attitudes I learned from my parents support Vygotsky’s sociocultural theory of cognitive development. He outlines the relationship between the development of cognitive processes, language, and cultural values in a child.
In this theory, a child’s cognitive concepts are organized according to the sociocultural concepts that are instilled in them at a young age; cognitive and sociocultural development are intrinsically linked. This has been true in my own experience. The sociocultural concepts and values I learned while young have influenced my attitudes towards every aspect of my life. Many of the life lessons my parents taught me were explained within the structure of their cultural traditions (Mahn, 1999). The support my parents showed towards my academic endeavors when I was a toddler, continue to this day.
When | informed them I wanted to quit high school at 16 and start college instead, they were my biggest support. They have encouraged me throughout my nursing school career and have never failed to push me towards higher goals. They continue to push me outside of my comfort zone and work to make my environment as conducive to my success as possible. The consistency of the positive factors that led to my development continue to affect me, even now. The influence of the many factors that influenced my development can be seen in all aspects of my life, from my cognitive and biological development, to my social, emotional, and spiritual growth.
I would not have been able to enjoy nearly the amount of academic success I have experienced were it not for the work of my parents, and the many educators who supported me along the way. It is because of them I started college at 16. My cultural upbringing gave me a love for hard work, and the motivation to always strive for more than my grandparents could have hoped to achieve. It is impossible to undervalue the effect these factors have had on me. They have, in no small part, made me who I am today.