this section we describe the dynamic nature of the constituents of children’s social environment and illustrate how these environmental influences manifest themselves.

Family Influences

Families are fundamental to children’s well-being and have a profound direct and indirect influence on the challenges they encounter and the resources available for their needs. The range of needed inputs is broad and includes material resources, time, interpersonal connections, and institutions that parents and communities may use to promote children’s development (National Research Council and Institute of Medicine, 1995b). Culturally, differing beliefs about normative development, appropriate parenting roles, and gender roles are important influences on the family (García Coll and Pachter, 2002) (see Box 3-3).

Family influences include both family demography and processes. Family demography consists of the readily measured facts of family life—composition (e.g., one versus two biological parents), financial status, and parental education. Family processes consist of the ways in which family influences operate to affect children’s well-being. They include parenting styles, the provision of family environments, and health habits that may be beneficial or detrimental to children’s heath. We also include in this category two parental characteristics that affect parenting—mental health and substance abuse.

Family and other environmental factors can be sources of either risk or resilience for the developing child, and it is crucial to understand that the child’s response to a specific stressor is influenced by a confluence of other influences. Thus, while in general a specific influence may be negative or positive, may be of greater or lesser impact at a given developmental stage, and may show its effects at the time or at some time in the future, it is often the presence and absence of other

BOX 3-3
Family Influences

Family demographics

  • Socioeconomic status

  • Family composition and size

Family processes

  • Parenting

  • Family learning environment

  • Parental mental health

  • Parental substance abuse



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