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Educational Psychology

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The purpose of the study was to investigate the impact effects of early childhood experiences on the personality development of adolescents in the Buea Municipality. The studyutilized a sample of 441 secondary school adolescents in form four and lower sixth and 100 parents in Buea Municipality.

The survey study employed a semi structured questionnaire for the data collection. The instruments were pilot tested and equally subjected to the Cronbach’s Alpha coefficient using SPSS statistic to establish their validity and reliability. The results of the study revealed that indeed the quality of a child’s early life experiences affect later personality development.

It was also revealed that, type of attachment has an influence on adolescent personality development. It is inferred that positive experiences based on love, attention, care, understanding and trust resulted in prosocial behavior while negative experiences of neglect, unaffection, lack of care and ignorance resulted in anti-social behaviors of aggression, hostility, suspiciousness and bullying.

It was therefore recommended that parents should endeavor to ensure positive experiences to enable their children develop proper personalities because unhealthy experiences leave the child at a risk of fitting into the society.



Background to the Study

Young children develop primarily through their relationships with the important people in their lives in the early years, that is, parents and caregivers (Gerhardt, 2004). National Scientific Council on the Developing Child (2004) refers to these relationships as the ‘active ingredients’ of the environment’s influence on healthy adolescent personality development.

This is why Hertzman, (2004) has characterized the brain as ‘an environmental organ’. This responsiveness to relationships is a fundamental part of the human biological make-up.

To corroborate the aforementioned assertion, Richter, (2004) argues that infants and caregivers are primed, by evolutionary adaptation, for caring interactions through which the child’s potential human capacities are realized.

Furthermore, these nurturing caregiver-child relationships have universal features across cultures, regardless of differences in specific child care practices.

The concept of infants’ emotional attachment to caregivers has been known anecdotally for hundreds of years. From the late 19th century onward, psychologists and psychiatrists suggested theories about the existence or nature of early relationships(Karen, pp. 1–25).

Early Freudian theory had little to say about a child’s relationship with the mother, postulating only that the breast was the love object.

Freudians attributed the infant’s attempts to stay near the familiar person to motivation learned through feeding and gratification of libidinal drives. In the 1930s, British developmental psychologist Ian Suttie suggested that the child’s need for affection was a primary one, not based on hunger or other physical gratifications (Suttie, 1935).

William Blatz, a Canadian psychologist and teacher of Mary Ainsworth, also stressed the importance of social relationships for development. Blatz proposed that the need for security was a normal part of personality, as was the use of others as a secure base (Wright, 1996).

Observers from the 1940sonward focused on anxiety displayed by infants and toddlers threatened with separation from a familiar caregiver (Fildes, 1988).

All children have experiences in the world, but only a few experiences are formative by themselves. Rather, the characteristics an individual develops are the result of interaction between genetic and experiential influences over time (Gottlieb, Wahlstein, &Lickliter, 2006).

A child may inherit a genetic tendency to be inhibited, for instance, but whether this leads to painful shyness or quiet confidence depends on the child’s experiences.

Thus to understand an individual at a given point in the life span, it is helpful to look at earlier periods (Lamb, Freund, & Lerner, 2010; Overton & Lerner, 2010).

The quality of the infant’s relationships at home lays the groundwork for the relationships the child forms with school friends, which in turn shape relationships the adolescent develops with intimate friends and lovers, and so on. The pathway that connects the past with the present and the future is a “developmental trajectory” (Nagin & Tremblay, 2005).

Early experience influences later development. This influence could account for individual
differences in many aspects such as cognition, behaviour, social skills, emotional responses and personality.

Some developmentalists assert that early experience guarantees long-term developmental outcomes or protects against subsequent trauma (Sroufe & Jacobvitz, 1989). Schore (1994) points out that these early experiences shape the development of a unique personality, its adaptive capacities as well as vulnerabilities to and resistances against particular
forms of future pathologies.

Among the many different relationships individuals form during the life span, the relationship between mother and child is the most important.

This relationship will mediate mother-child attachment. Fraiberg, (1959) writes: “Our personal identity the very center of our humanness is achieved through the early bonds of child and parent.

Bowlby (1980), experience with primary care givers leads to generalized expectations and beliefs (“working models”) about self, the world, and relationships.

He describes these representations as persistent and yet open to revision in light of experience. Persistent attachment representations allow positive secure base experiences to guide behavior when someone “stronger and wiser” is not at hand (Bowlby, 1985).

The care that children receive has powerful effects on their survival, growth and development. Care refers to the behaviors and practices of caregivers (mothers, siblings, fathers and child care providers) to provide the food, health care, stimulation and emotional support necessary for children’s healthy survival, growth and development.

Not only the practices themselves, but also the way they are performed in terms of affection and responsiveness to the child are critical to achild’s survival, growth and development (Engle & Lhotska, 1999 p.132)

The day-to-day interactions with intimate and regular caregivers in the developmental period from birth to three years, is very essential. These early years of life have an important influence on later experiences.

They determine the impact that later experiences have on future health and development. This is because the first three years of life are believed to be a sensitive period in biological and social development (Bornstein, 1989).

Loving care provides the infant with a mirror reflecting a tender and sympathetic view of the child’s self and of the world. Early experiences function as schema on which the infant then predicts future events and encounters.
The young child who receives loving care feels that he is a loved person and expects other people to respond to him as someone deserving of care and attention. In contrast, a child whose needs have been neglected does not usually expect others to be kind and considerate, and frequently behaves aggressively and defensively.

A child’s first lesson in behavior and emotion are learned from his parents through interaction (Aba, 2004). The child begins life by learning to trust first the mother and later other persons close to him.

The child can also learn to distrust people depending on the type of relationship that exists between him and those people around him. Depending on the nature of interaction that exists in the home, all future reactions of the child, according to Harris (2003) are based in part, upon earlier ones. If the child is helped at early age to explore and to make new adjustments, he becomes secure and confident.

 Udo and Ajala (2005) are of the opinion that, if parents are mature, understand and accept their child, the child has a very good chance of developing a mature personality. However, if parents frequently reject a child or punish him unnecessarily he may grow up believing that all people will reject or punish him.

The child may become uncertain and uncomfortable in relating with others as well. Tor-Anyiin (2004) observes also that, the function of inculcating the pro-social skills of altruism, empathy, sharing, cooperation and compassion are absolutely of the home and from interaction between the child and the primary caregiver.

So, a child’s failure to learn to respect authority is parental failure to effectively punish misbehavior.

Kembe (2004) asserts also that development of antisocial behaviour is basically as a result of parental failure to monitor and supervise their children’s movement, and younger children perform more pro-social behaviour when parents induce them.

Basedon the literature seen so far, there is no doubt that early childhood experiences is the pedestal on which later experiences and healthy personalities are developed in  the society. The world is therefore a reflection of the various and diverse experiences children were exposed to (Onete, Eyo and Joshua, 2009).

This is why  parents, teachers, psychologists, and policy makers are concerned with the undesirable behaviours, emotional and psychological problems of children who are expected to take charge of tomorrow responsibly, given the common knowledge that the “youths are the leaders of tomorrow”.

The behavioural problems of children are the result of diverse experiences of the early years, which are manifested in disobedience, stealing, lying, truancy, aggression, promiscuity, identity crisis and other sundry maladjustments.

However, a number of early childhood experiences which could be related to adolescent personality development may include maternal deprivation, type of attachment and perception of divorce.

Bowlby (1951) postulated that “the infant and young child should experience a warm, intimate, and continuous relationship with his mother (or permanent mother substitute) in which both find satisfaction and enjoyment”, the lack of which may have significant and irreversible mental health consequences.

Maternal privation occurs when an offspring has never had mothering and the separation between mother and child occurs soon after birth. Maternal deprivation occurs when the offspring loses its mother, with whom he has already formed an attachment and this has long-term consequences which are profound (Gandelman, 1992).

The mother is usually the primary caregiver for an infant although this may not always be the case. In some instances, a father, or someone else may care for the infant. However, since the care typically falls to the mother, the term maternal is common.

Each child has a unique history. One child may have gone immediately to an orphanage that was clean with adequate food and care, while another child may have lived with an alcoholic mother for the first several years of his life.

He may have been exposed to alcohol prenatally and been neglected by his mother as a young child and he may have been removed from his mother and sent to an orphanage where he was dirty and preyed upon by older children.

Despite the wide diversity of care in orphanages, which range from benign to unthinkably bad, one commonality is the lack of maternal care.

The lack of someone to notice the child’s needs and take care of the problems, someone the child knows and trusts; someone who has the child’s best interest at heart. This lack of care has been termed maternal deprivation (Bowlby, 1951).

Attachmentmeans an affectional bond or tie between an individual and an attachment figure (usually a caregiver). Such bonds may be reciprocal between two adults, but between a child
and a caregiver these bonds are based on the child’s need for safety, security and protection, paramount in infancy and childhood.

In child-to-adult relationships, the child’s tie is called the “attachment” and the caregiver’s reciprocal equivalent is referred to as the “care-giving bond” (Bretherton, 1992).

Day to day interactions in the home between parents-children and siblings essential because these bonds contribute to children’s personality which is largely dependent on the type of relationships children have with different family members.

The relationships, in turn, are influenced by the pattern of family life as well as by the attitudes and behaviour of different family members towards the children (Hurlock 1978).A child first begins life by learning to trust the mother during the initial bonding.

The child can also learn to distrust people depending on the existing relationships in the home. This means the child develops trust based on the interactions in the home, which is a land mark to personality development (Feldman, 2000).

A home broken by divorce can be more damaging to family relationship according to Hurlock (1978). Most children go through phases in adjustment to divorce or separation of parents, which pose threats to their personality development.

Bowlby, back in 1969 created a theory of attachment, and defined attachment as the relationship between parent and child, this attachment provides the child with an idea of how to form a relationship and adjust to various life experiences (Hines, 2007).

The theory assumes that adult friendships or romantic relationship develop from parents or early caregivers examples. (Carranza et aI, 2009). Carranza et al (2009) also suggests that since these are formed early, a parental divorce or separation could cause the child to have relationship issues later in life.

Divorce can change this attachment style and can make a child have feelings of anger, resentment and confusion, which can alter the child’s ability to form meaningful relationships (Hines, 2007). This is one impact divorce can take on adolescents, after a parental divorce.

It is hard for adolescents to understand this process, while trying to figure out who they are themselves. Family structure plays and important part in helping an adolescent adjust and understand to the changes in their life and body. It has been shown in prior studies that family structure is one of the factors that influence an adolescent’s success (Hines, 2007).

The study of personality is probably more difficult and contentious than other fields of psychology. Various people defined personality according to their perceptions of the term.

Personality, according to Apebende and Ukpepi (2004) is the relatively stable organization of a person’s motivational disposition arising from the interaction between biological, the social and physical environments.

Personality also refers to the various dimensions or aspects of an individual’s characteristics that make him different from others (Mallum 2004). Personality is a more or less stable and enduring organization of a person’s character, temperaments, intellect and physique, which determines his unique adjustment to his environment.

This means that personality trait is something that exists in an individual and that, it is alive and functional. So far there seems to be no universally agreed scientific definition of personality.

All definitions however, imply that personality represents an individual’s unique pattern or method of relating to the environment, the distinctive and consistent attributes peculiar to the individual.

Kembe 2004; 2008; Aba 2004; Mallum 2004; and Kpernyam 2010 observed that individuals with positive personality characteristics adjust more in the society than those with negative personality and that individuals with positive personality characteristics tend to accept responsibilities than those with negative characteristics because the latter are more maladjusted and so prone to ills in the society.

This research is therefore designed to investigate the predictive power of early childhood experiences on the personality development of adolescents in the Buea Municipality, to ascertain the claims of Bowlby & Ainsworth, (1959) which claimed that early experiences an individual had go along way to determine his or her personality.

So also, is Erikson’spsychosocial theory which focuses on the development of the mind, brain, and social aspects thus external relationships. Erikson’s psychosocial theory is viewed as an extension of Freud’s psychosexual theory.

In his theory Freud attempts to explain personality development in terms of experiences that occur during infancy and childhood.

Mataruse andMwatengahama (2001) assert that according to Freud’s theory of personality development, it is during the first five years that a child’s sexual orientation is developed and determined. Erikson focuses on eight stages of psychosocial development.

Both Bowlby & Ainsworth, (1959) and Erikson, (1982) emphasized early experiences and environmental factors as major determinant of adolescent personality characteristics.

Home seemed not to be what it is supposed to be nowadays because many parents who are the primary care givers in the home now have little or no time and concern for the care and well being of their children as it used to be in years back.

This could probably be because of economic crisis and the pursuit for material wealth, many parents seem to have abandoned their parental roles to strangers called nannies or house-helps, including peer group to nurture the children while parents go about seeking for greener pasture and the rest.

The question in mind now is, are the theories forwarded by Erikson, (1982) and Bowlby ,(1959) true of Cameroonian adolescents today? This explains why a study on prognostic power of the effects of early childhood experiences on personality development of adolescents in Buea municipality, South West Region of Cameroon is still relevant and necessary.

There is need for a study of this nature because daily experiences in Cameroon especially as recorded in news highlights, show that adolescents often exhibit personality characteristics that are detrimental to themselves and the entire society.

As observed by (Kembe, 2005), these negative acts have culminated in social vices which include delinquency, dishonesty, examination malpractices, aggressiveness, promiscuity and stealing as well as loose sexual life in the society.

This study therefore is intended to find out the compelling power of early experiences on the personality development of secondary school adolescents in the South West Region, Cameroon.

Statement of the Problem

Currently, parents seem to have failed to a certain extent to provide utmost interaction that would enhance “positive” personality development of adolescents, therefore leaving these adolescents to absorb peer culture, which sometimes are detrimental to the adolescents, and the society at large.

Home environment is made up of many factors (physical and psychological) that influence the personality development of adolescents.

Parents are believed to be the first primary agents of socialization of their children, so have significant roles to play in the personality development of their children.

These days, some parents who should be main attachment figures are rarely present at the critical periods in the early years.

Since parents no longer have enough time to spend with their children at home due to technological changes and economic crisis, children are left at home with care-givers or nannies that have little or nothing to offer in terms of proper training and care of the child.

It is observed that early experiences an individual had at home have capabilities to determine to a large extent the personality of such an individual.

The adolescents have different home environment and so must have had different experiences at their early stage of development. This might have led to the differences in personality characteristics among adolescents.

As evidenced in the literature, some of these differences are negative and give concern to parents, teachers, government and the society at large.

Adolescents display personality characteristics that pose threats to lives and properties.

These groups of adolescents, in their quest for financial independence, venture into illegal practices such scamming and stealing in order to meet up with their material demands (electronic gadgets, accessories and finance for extravagant outings) which they feel their parents cannot provide.

Therefore, this research is intended to find out the predictive power of early childhood experiences on the personality development of secondary school adolescents in Buea Municipality, South West Region of Cameroon.

Purpose of the Study

The purpose of this study was to find out the effects of early childhood experiences on personality development of adolescents in theBuea municipality.

Specific objectives

  • To examine the effects of maternal deprivation on adolescent personality development.

  • To access the effects of type of attachment on adolescent personality development.

  • To determine the impact of divorce on adolescent personality development.

Research Questions

  • To what degree does maternal deprivation affect adolescent personality development?
  • To what extent does type of attachment affect adolescent personality development?
  • To what degree does divorce affect adolescent personality development?
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