Academic journal article The Future of Children

The Multiple Contexts of Middle Childhood

Academic journal article The Future of Children

The Multiple Contexts of Middle Childhood

Article excerpt


During middle childhood, children begin to navigate their own ways through societal structures, forming ideas about their individual talents and aspirations for the future. The ability to forge a positive pathway can have major implications for their success as adults. The pathways to success, however, may differ for children of diverse cultural, racial, ethnic, and national backgrounds. This article provides a conceptual model of child development that incorporates the contextual, racial, and cultural factors that can play critical roles for children who are not part of mainstream society. Key observations emerging from this model include the following:

* It is the interplay of the three major derivatives of social stratification--social position, racism, and segregation--that creates the unique conditions and pathways for children of color and of immigrant families.

* A segregated school or neighborhood environment that is inhibiting due to limited resources may, at the same time, be promoting if it is supportive of the child's emotional and academic adjustment, helping the child to manage societal demands imposed by discrimination.

* The behavioral, cognitive, linguistic, and motivational deficits of minority and immigrant children are more appropriately recognized as manifestations of adaptive cultures, as families develop goals, values, attitudes, and behaviors that set them apart from the dominant culture.

Society should strive to promote positive pathways through middle childhood for all children, regardless of their background, by ensuring access to critical resources now and in the future. The authors conclude by suggesting various strategies for working with children of color and children of immigrant families to accomplish this goal.


Middle childhood, from 6 to 12 years of age, is a crucial stage in development when children begin to have sustained encounters with different institutions and contexts outside of their families and to navigate their own way through societal structures. It is during this period that children develop a sense of competence, forming ideas about their abilities, the domains of accomplishment they value, and the likelihood that they will do well in these domains. (1) In particular, a child's academic self-perceptions emerge and consolidate in middle childhood, (2) contributing to academic attainment in middle school and beyond. Thus, during middle childhood the development of positive attitudes toward school, academic achievement, and aspirations for the future can have major implications for children's success as adults.

In light of the changing demographics of the childhood population in the United States, it is critical to understand how successful developmental pathways may differ for children of diverse cultural, racial, ethnic, and national backgrounds. During middle childhood, children of color and of immigrant backgrounds may, for the first time, directly experience exclusion, devaluation, invisibility, discrimination, and racism and these may become important potential sources of influence on their interactions and reactions to "mainstream" society. (3) Thus, while similar developmental competencies are required of all children, those from non-mainstream backgrounds, or "outsiders," may follow different developmental pathways. (4) Experiences within the family, institutions, and communities create particular realities for such children that need to be better understood in order to provide appropriate supports to ensure their success. (5)

This article explores when and under which circumstances children are likely to form healthy ethnic/racial identities in spite of negative messages from society, (6) and why some succeed academically while others, in the same schools and from the same backgrounds, do not. Available research documents that children of color generally are overrepresented in high-risk categories, and that economic disadvantage plays a major role in these outcomes. …

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