Bird’s eye views of growing pains

The Developing Child - The Developing Person through Childhood - The Developing Person through Childhood and Adolescence - Child Development - A Child’s Odyssey: Child and Adolescent Development
November 24, 2000

It is that time of year when students ask: "Which textbook is worth buying to see me through my degree course?" T here is n ever one textbook broad enough to cover all the topics in a psychology degree, much to students’ distress. However, there are a lot of undergraduate textbooks specialising in particular areas of psychology. Some are very good, others less so. In developmental psychology the choice of textbooks is large, and the layout and content often fairly standardised. The only reason to bring out a new edition of a textbook is to include new topics and/or expand on others previously covered. This Laura Berk does in Child Development by relating the importance of the interconnection between innate predispositions and environmental influences, as well as the interaction between theory and application of research to the study of development. More important, perhaps, is the focus on the sequence of development and the processes that underlie it. For example, the chapter on language development explains the Skinner- Chomsky debate in some detail. Berk goes on to explain that, by looking at language abilities in children with developmental disorders, it is possible to understand the processes that underlie language development.

Children with Williams syndrome have poor planning, problem solving and spatial skills. On the face of it, their language abilities appear to be relatively intact. Careful testing, however, reveals that affected children score poorly on tests of knowledge of general grammar. Berk cites the work of Annette Karmiloff -Smith Smith who argues that if the Williams - syndrome brain devotes more space to language than other cognitive processes, then there will be less emphasis on grammatical rules. In other words, the size of the area in the brain devoted to particular abilities may affect processing capabilities. Although this idea is not covered in any great depth, it is enough to get students interested. Berk’s book is a good development textbook for first - year undergraduates.

Kathleen Berger has attempted to make her latest edition of The Developing Person through Childhood distinctive by linking theories of development with application. The usual topics of psychosocial, cognitive and biosocial development are discussed by age rather than thematically. I t is difficult to read because of this. For example, the topic of language is split between chapters 9 and 12. Although the content that is there is good, some of the historical debate on how children learn language is missing, which is a shame because it is important that students learn about the historical underpinnings of current thinking and research. 
 Berger has included policy issues at the end of each chapter. In many instances, however, the issues seem dated. A case in point is the debate about nature/nurture at the end of chapter two. The major part is concerned with the practical implications of this debate. However, th e clear distinction she draws between either genes or environmental factors shaping a person is a non-debate. Current thinking is that innate predispositions are only predispositions, which require interaction with the environment for them to develop. Berger point s this out, but only at the end of a two-page policy issue. This is very much an American textbook, with issues that are particularly relevant to American culture. For example, she discusses whether or not abortion should be legalised - more of an American presidential election issue than one for students studying developmental psychology. If I had to recommend one textbook to students, I am afraid that it would not be this one.

 One may be excused for asking what the difference is between the ninth edition of Kathleen Berger’s The Developing Person through Childhood and her The Developing Person through Childhood and Adolescence . The answer is that in the second book she has incorporated an additional three chapters on adolescent development. The format is the same as in her other textbook. In chapter 14, the emphasis is on the interaction between hormonal changes and social development. Although the next chapter discusses the development of thought processes in adolescence, the material is covered superficially. At the end of the chapter there is a discussion on sexual activity in adolescence. She is correct in saying that unprotected sexual activity can result in catching sexually transmitted diseases and/or unwanted pregnancies. But this is meant to be a developmental textbook for adults, not a lecture on the rights and wrongs and social implications of unprotected sex. Again, I cannot recommend students to buy this book.

The Developing Child by Helen Bee has a number of supplements that can be purchased along with th e book. This is a fairly standard developmental textbook and as such is solid in its content and format. The major topics in development are covered well. Additionally Bee poses questions like "Why doesn’t every teenager use formal logic ? " as a means of promoting debate. There are summaries of the major issues at the end of each chapter as well as suggested readings. The summaries are useful. However, the suggested readings more often than not point students to other, similar, older textbooks. I encourage students to read journal articles as well as textbooks, something Bee does not seem to promote in this book. However, this is a good developmental textbook which I am sure undergraduate students will like. But it is not so very different from, or better than, tens of other such books.

I have saved the best for last. A Child’s Odyssey: Child and Adolescent Development by Paul Caplan is, like Berger’s book, arranged by age groups rather than thematically. There the similarity ends. Caplan includes the early theories of development and discusses how recent research has either changed or modified our theories. An example can be seen in the discussion on attachment in infants. The early studies of J. Bowlby, M. Ainsworth, and Sigmund Freud are discussed in some detail. Kaplan then goes on to look at more recent research that takes on board the social environment in which children are reared today. For instance, more than 60 per cent of mothers with children under six go out to work. Consequently, day care, whether it is at a day - care centre or provided by a relative other than the mother, has become very important in studying the nature of attachment. The effect of day care on attachment is discussed in terms of current research and the findings are evaluated in light of earlier thinking. These in-depth discussions can be found in virtually all of the chapters. This is a good developmental textbook, up there with H. Gleitman. I would be happy to recommend this book to undergraduate students.
Janine Spencer is lecturer in cognition and cognitive development, London Guildhall University.

The Developing Child: Ninth Edition

Author - Helen Bee
ISBN - 0 321 04709 5
Publisher - Allyn and Bacon
Price - £26.99
Pages - 575

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