The concept of normative development is strange and unique by any standard. There is a strong logic put forward by developmental psychologists that average or normal growth and development is defined by some observable milestones in every child. A milestone in this case is the chronological achievement of certain developmental stages. Non-achievement or failure to attain some critical milestones would be construed as an indication of abnormal development (Santrock, 2006). However, when the issue of development is considered much closely, all these assumptions would not stand. Probably we should ask ourselves what constitutes ‘normal’.
And what actually does it mean? The fact that no two persons can ever demonstrate the same self should be enough challenge to the normative development concept. Or does it refer to the socially accepted traits only? This paper will argue that under the circumstances of different life experiences the normative development does not exist and the bio-ecological theory of development would be used to illustrate this understanding. Furthermore, this paper will discuss the three elements that are observable in the development process two of which normative development lay a claim but can all be explained by the bioecological theory.
First though, a review of the normative development and its preset would be presented to set the pace for this discussion. This would be followed by analysis of eating disorders as viewed by the bio-ecological theorists. There are numerous literatures on the topic of physical milestones or norms and most parents believe there is a chronological or systematic development of their newborns. To many new parents, a newborn would be expected to develop strong muscles around the neck by the age of three months, begin to crawl at the age of six months, walk and begin talking after a year, and to develop an adult immune capacity at age six.
They also expected their children to stop growing in height by the age of twenty or probably earlier in girls, and eventually to live much longer than them and probably die at the age of 75 or 81 (Santrock, 2006). The stages of these milestones as roughly described above only signify the average. For example, most ‘normal’ children start walking and talking at around the age of twelve months. However, it is quite common to find some babies achieving this much earlier or later than this age.
This is normally never taken into account as statisticians are only concerned with the average; whether it is static or mobile is beside the point (Hauser, & Safyer, 1994). That brings my discussion to the issue of age norms which is the second element of normative development. Generally, age norms are socially prescribed achievements as defined by different cultures as one develops through life. Just as particular physical milestones will define the health of a person’s body, age-base societal norms would define expectations of responsibilities and behaviors, which then indicate level of maturity (Truluck & Courtenay, 2002).
For example in the western culture, a child of about six years old would be expected to begin schooling and at age 17, he or she would be deemed fit to drive a car. Similarly, at the age of 18, an adolescent is passed fit to vote and consume alcohol and it is at this stage that a parent is absolved of any duty or responsibility to such an individual. Apart from the example given of the western society’s age norms, all cultures around the world have age norms that they can readily and easily observed and demonstrate (Santrock, 2006). Nevertheless the age norms are not specific on individuals as the physical norms are.
This is because age norms are primarily concerned with defining milestones that all persons of a particular age group will show uniformly across the society. Failure to achieve these milestones may bring about a negative experience to persons who through one reason or the other are unable to meet the societal expectations. Such persons may be sidelined or discriminated against by other members of the society. A positive achievement however will bring about the opposite results. It would instill a sense of accomplishment as well as pride in a person and also help him or her move on with a lot of confidence throughout the developmental process.
The other observable element in the developmental stages is the will. The will which is sometimes referred to as the ego , the soul or the spirit, is that part of a person’s inner self which informs his or her inner choices and strives to guide him or her towards realization of his or potential (Hauser & Safyer, 1994). Although this element is more of speculative and no substantive theory has been put forward to explain it adequately, my discussion on the bio-ecological theory would shed more light on it.
From the above analysis we can surely conclude that normative development do exists because the first two elements – physical and age norms are observable, while there is much silence on the speculative idea of the will. However, such a conclusion would need a strong explanation in order to remain relevant. My take is that physical norms are just observations while age norms are nothing but cultural and societal constructs and therefore arbitrary and mobile (Truluck & Courtenay, 2002).
It is therefore much in order to ask what links the two elements together and at the same time what highlights their role in the overall picture of development. And what would shed light on the fact that not every child would develop in the same manner as prescribed by these norms? My conclusion is that normative development cannot and will not account to these variations in human development and it is the purpose of this paper to explain that there is an underlying force behind human development – what I call the development of the will.
Through the analysis of the eating disorders as a factor in the developmental process, I will use the bio-ecological theory to highlight the occurrences in the human developmental process. Eating disorder as well as disturbed patterns of eating is more often linked to obesity. Abnormal eating practices that create an imbalance between consumed energy and spend energy can not only lead to increased weight but can also be as a result of psychological distress. Various studies on whether obesity results into eating disorders or whether disturbed eating may cause obesity have been quite inconsistent.
However, most obese persons seeking weight loss therapy normal report disturbed eating patterns (Hauser & Safyer, 1994). Adolescents are the most vulnerable group when it comes to eating disorders. Currently, those diagnosed with bulimia and anorexia nervosa is increasing at an alarming rate and the number of adolescents suffering other various eating disorders and disturbed eating patterns are equally high. There are a number of reasons why eating disorders creeps in during adolescence stage of development in many of the world societies today (Hauser & Safyer, 1994).
Teenagers are left with the daunting tasks of choosing their career and professions at a time when many changes are going in their bodies. Quite a number would want to develop a career in modeling, entertainment, gymnastics, athletics and many others that require them to manipulate their body weight in order to attain the ‘normal’ body size for that particular profession. The physical development of adolescents with eating disorders ranges from extremely heavy to extremely thin. In between the two extremes would be a number of physiques.
Nevertheless, along the spectrum – from the thin to the obese, those with eating disorders have different underlying problems that affect their normal nourishment. Nutrition related behaviors as well as associated changes in body weight are the most obvious features of such disorders. The outward symptoms will certainly be obvious to those affected persons, the public as well as medical personnel. However, there are normally other underlying issues resulting into disturbed eating patterns. The neuro-physical and psycho-developmental are the underlying issues behind the eating disorders (Hauser & Safyer, 1994).
To understand these developments in adolescents, bio-ecological model of Urie Bronfenbrenner offers an analysis of psychological development of human being. Adolescents having eating disorders may have had perfect and ‘normal’ development and might not have shown any form of deviance from achieving the physical milestone and age norms as prescribed by their different societies and cultures. However, the underlying reasons behind the development of eating disorders may be enough to show us that the developmental process may require a strong will to maintain the path of normal development.
The bio-ecological theory takes into accounts both the processes and outcomes of development by examining the individual’s interaction with his or her environment over a period of time. Bio-ecological model has always contrasted the common assumption made by most studies that human developmental attributes like intelligence, Piagetian stages and processes are both measurable and examinable from the context of a person’s life, society and time (Manners & Durkin, 2001).
According to Bronfenbrenner human development is surrounded by environmental systems. In these systems, an individual’s development is affected in a more open-ended way. From this understanding the developments of the adolescents having eating disorders may be understood as a manifestation firstly, of individual conditions – age, sex and health and secondly, of their environmental factors within their immediate surrounding – school, family and friends, what Bronfenbrenner calls microsystem.
The larger surrounding of the adolescents would also be a contributing factors and this include the mass media, their cities or towns, and neighbors – the exosystem, the dominant attitudes and ideologies of their time – macrosystem and the final contributor would be the time as a factor on their experiences – the chronosystem (Truluck & Courtenay, 2002). The theory further explains that for any development to take place an individual must be involved in increasingly intricate actions and tasks. In essence, it posits that human development is influenced by the challenges faced by oneself.
Since growth never takes place in a vacuum, a static functioning of the body would not enhance development because no learning would be experienced. This theory would therefore perfectly explain the development of adolescents with disturbed eating patterns. Let us take for example a young lady from a poor family who wants to become a model and therefore undertakes poor dieting in order to loss weight. At the center of the development is an individual with the normative prescribed physical traits and the sensibilities and potentials as engraved in the genes.
The young lady had an average height and health. She developed liking for arts and music. Her microsystem – family, school and friends defined how she grew up and the feelings she developed in the process. For example, her love for arts might have alienated her from her peers who have the working class mentality. This would force her to join groups that she thought were a bit sympathetic to her artistry. The process of mesosystem then reinforced these developments by connecting the feelings and experiences in her microsystem.
She soon develops depression which is a product of her poor background, alienation by peers and the constant gloom that is her neighborhood. Both the exosystem and the macrosystem she went through affected her greatly. That is the media glorification of small body and the general perception of small body by her generation as the epitome of beauty. These together with her strong sensitivity of the demands of her society and culture as well as time, she decides to undergo weight loss to be one of the top models and beautiful lady around.
She does all these not knowing the health risks she was subjecting herself to. All these are done because of her life experiences, the pressure from her neighbors and peers, and the societal expectation. The workings of time on her life development therefore push her to pursue a career that comes with a health risks. Nevertheless, the choice is a manifestation of the individual’s encounter with her environment (Manners & Durkin, 2001). Critique of Normative Development Model Normative development leaves out of the most important element of human developmental process.
The ego or the spirit or the will is an important element in the human development and it is the mechanism that the bio-ecological model uses to posit that development needs a learning process – that every person must be involved in an ever increasing intricate actions and tasks. My taking is that it is the will that would drive a person onto the new experiences as well as challenges important in the developmental process. Although, the bio-ecological model lacks any discussion on the will, it would really fit into Bronfenbrenner arguments as one of its elements of the concept of the individual (Manners & Durkin, 2001).
The ego development can be understood as evolving frameworks of ideas that an individual imposes on his or her inner perceptions and experiences with people and events. This can be explained further by the assumption that every individual has got a customary direction to herself or himself as well as to the world and which can be arrayed along a certain continuum. In essence therefore, ego is meant not only to integrate but also to give meaning to individual’s experiences (Truluck & Courtenay, 2002). The concept of the ego is well illustrated by Nietzsche and Scheler.
The two scholars believe that the spirit or the ego is the product of a person’s power. In this sense, the will seek to drive and direct a person towards some experiences that would bring out and fulfill the person’s latent potentials and powers that are deep within. The ego or the will achieve this through interaction with various spheres – as explained in the bio-ecological model, and thereby develops and creates the realities of a person (Hauser & Safyer, 1994). From the example of the lady who wanted to become a model, it is clear that she was driven by the power of the will.
Her will to be a beauty queen tormented her and her longing to connect her vision with the realities of the world later cost her her health. Much as she wanted to match the beauty she experienced in her sub-consciousness with the realities of the world, she ended up risking her health. Nevertheless it was her will to risk her health that defined her strong ego. It is therefore clear that she was driven by this basic ego towards the experiences she met and thus leading to her development as a whole.
Achieving the physical and the age norms were only supplementary and were only there to motivate the ego. In a nutshell, the will or the ego is the primary driving force behind our experiences which are reinforced by the environmental experiences and encounters. From this discussion it will be quite in order to conclude that the concept of normative development is a misplaced one and does not actually exist. As the life of the adolescent with the disturbed eating patterns would suggest, normative developments do not exist anywhere near the human developmental process.
Age norms are there in every society and culture and I have no doubt that they can be readily observed and explained, because they serve some particular purposes. I also contend that there are some observable achievements that define physical development, but again they are simply functional and are used to indicate the progression in the health of a growing child. However, it would be in order to say that the normative development elements, age norm in particular are simply societal and cultural constructs and may only reinforce negative experiences on an individual’s developmental processes.
References Hauser, S. T. , & Safyer A. W. (1994). Ego Development and Adolescent Emotions. Journal of Research on Adolescence, Vol. 4(4), 487-502. Manners, J. , & Durkin K. (2001). A Critical Review of the Validity of Ego Development Theory and Its Measurement. Journal of Personality Assessment, Vol. 77(3), 541-567 Santrock, J. W. (2006). Life-Span Development. McGraw Hill: Sydney Truluck, J. E. , & Courtenay B. C. (2002). Ego Development and the Influence of Gender, Age, and Educational Levels among Older Adults. Educational Gerontology, Vol. 28, 325-336