The Interaction of Biology and Environment
Biology and environmental factors play important roles in the physical growth of children’s development through their adolescent years. Throughout history, researchers have debated which factor is prevalent in affecting a child’s development, nature or nurture. However, Arnett states that “given the profound biological changes that take place during the adolescent and adult years, both nature and nurture are especially relevant to these periods of life” (Arnett, 2013, p. 56). Therefore, it is important to consider the biological influences such as genotypes and environmental factors such as culture and socio-economic conditions. These factors, biological and environmental become even more critical when dealing with children or adolescents from underdeveloped nations. For example, medical and family histories on the adopted child may be incomplete or lack of understanding of environmental issues that may include traumatic events of living in impoverished conditions or experiencing adverse conditions such as early childhood deprivation.
Arnett describes three genotypes, passive, evocative, and active that can affect the development in children and adolescents (Arnett, 2013). The passive genotype pertains to those of the biological family and are affected by the environment and surroundings from the biological family. In this situation, where the focus is on adoption by another family, the passive genotype would have little affect on the developmental trajectory of the adolescent. The evocative genotype will react to people and environment that the child or adolescent is in. For example, a child or adolescent’s development, who is adopted will respond to their new family and new environment. Finally, the active genotype looks to satisfy the child’s wants and choices where it seeks the environment that makes them comfortable (Arnett, 20013, pp. 56-59). As a child matures to adolescence and adulthood, the active genotype also matures to allow them to make their own choices in life. However, biological development may hamper or impede availability of choices limiting options for the active genotype. For example, if an adolescent adopted from an underdeveloped nation is malnourished, stunted growth, or delayed cognitive or physical ability, they may not have the want or have the ability to participate in activities such as sports or other challenging events.
Ethnicity and cultural differences can also impact the developmental trajectory of adolescents adopted from underdeveloped nations. Differences in body size, dietary and nutritional concerns, and cultural perceptions can be difficult to overcome when introduced into new and different environments, such as western, developed nations like the United States. Many underdeveloped nations lack the resources to provide services to families at the local level as compared to developed nations. As a result, children growing up in these areas may experience health issues, stunted growth, and malnutrition. A study by Bradley and Putnick states that “inadequate food, poor hygiene practices, and poor-quality sanitation contribute to infections and growth problems in children” (Bradley, & Putnick, 2016, p. 37). Children who were institutionalized in underdeveloped nations may not have received adequate to deal with trauma, or mental health issues. A study by Askeland states that “children and adolescents who have been internationally adopted have previously been shown to have more mental health problems compared to their non-adopted peers” (Askeland, et al., 2015, p. 48). As a result, a child’s or adolescent’s state of mind can adversely affect their physical growth and well-being. Additional biological concerns may also include the adolescent’s hormonal activity. Arnett describes that adolescence in western, developed countries is when hormonal changes, such as puberty occurs (Arnett, 2013). In underdeveloped nations, these changes may be delayed causing social awkwardness with their new peers, family, and worse, their own self-esteem.
Although these delays or issues present challenges for children and adolescents adopted from underdeveloped nations, there are still opportunities to normalize or catch-up with their developmental trajectory. Children who “show significant delays in physical growth and motor development at the time of adoption, rapid and complete or nearly complete recovery in these domains for most children is often observed” (Welsh, & Vianna, 2012). A study by Katzenstein showed “that children adopted from deprived settings oftentimes are able to “catch-up” cognitively and linguistically to approximate the developmental levels of their same-aged peers” (Katzenstein, LeJeune, & Johnson, 2016, p. 224). Proper nutrition, nurturing, and environment from adoptive families can have a positive influence on the adopted child’s evocative genotype allowing them to flourish.