Using the ecomap to explore children's phenomenology about their social worlds
To gain an understanding of children’s social milieu, this study explored international children’s phenomenology about their social networks, stressors, and supports using the ecomap, a graphic tool that maps children’s social relationships and their appraisals of them. Specifically, it addressed the following two research questions using archival ecomap data collected from 816 school-aged children (ages four – 19 years) from 14 cities in 12 countries (Brazil – Manaus, Estonia – Tallinn, Greece – Athens, India – Mumbai, Italy – Padua, Mexico – Xalapa, Romania – Bucharest, Russia – Samara, Slovak Republic – Košice, Sri Lanka – Negombo, Tanzania – Arusha, and the United States – Boston, Massachusetts; Mayagüez, Puerto Rico; New Orleans, Louisiana): (a) What are the characteristics of international children’s social networks, and what cross-cultural patterns exist; and (b) Who and what do children consider their social supports and social stressors, and what cross-cultural patterns emerge? The nature of the ecomap drawings and their associated narratives allowed for a concurrent mixed methods approach to be used to identify cross-cultural phenomenological patterns about the structures (network size, embeddedness, and network composition), functions (stressor and support types), and evaluations (relationship appraisals) of children’s social worlds. Considerable diversity was found in the data, but a number of notable cross-site, cross-gender, and cross-age patterns were identified. In general, children in this sample reported a trimmed mean network size of 7.87 (SD = 3.61), with middle school students reporting the largest (M = 8.78). Embeddedness, measured as the balance of perceived stress and supports (Nastasi & Borja, 2015; Summerville, 2013), also was generally positive, suggesting that children generally perceive themselves to be connected to their social networks. Most commonly reported members included home parent/caregivers, friends/peers, extended family members, and siblings; and across grade levels, sites, and gender, network members were generally appraised positively. When asked about the ways that network members support or trigger distress, youth in this sample described over 50 stress and support themes, most of which related to interpersonal relationships and interactions. The results of the current study not only contributes to the literature on children’s stressors and supports, but also build on Nastasi and colleagues’ Promoting Psychological Well-Being Globally project (PPWBG; Nastasi & Borja, 2015), whose international team collected the ecomap data to understand children’s well-being and the culturally- and developmentally-unique factors that influence them.