The Feral Children and Main Development Theories

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Table of contents

  1. Introduction
  2. Bronfenbrenner’s Ecological Systems Theory
  3. Erikson and Freud’s Psychosocial Theories
  4. Piaget’s Cognitive Developmental Stage Theory
  5. Kohlberg’s Moral Development Stage Theory
  6. Conclusion


According to Britannica a feral child is a child that has grown up, accidentally or intentionally, with limited human contact. But just because these children grew up with little to no human contact; it doesn't mean that they are any less human.

For example, Victor of Aveyron, a twelve year old boy who was found completely naked looking for something to eat. When he was first found, he was mute, he couldn't perceive human contact, and often exploded into very violent outbursts. Genie Wiley, a thirteen year old girl, who was abused by her father, was found isolated from society in her own home. Oksana Malaya, who was thrown out of her house at three years old by her alcoholic parents, took refuge with stray dogs. Edik, a four year old boy, was found abandoned in a set of run down apartments. These children are considered to be some of the most severe feral children cases and most of these children have grown and developed contrary to what others believed. Therefore, while feral children are considered unmanageable and unable to learn, developmental theories have shown feral children in various case studies are closer to the expected developmental standards placed on children.

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Bronfenbrenner’s Ecological Systems Theory

In order for a child to be considered feral, the child must have had little or no human contact. Which means, the child has not experienced many human relationships in their lives. American psychologist, Urie Bronfenbrenner, created the Ecological Systems Theory to explain how the innate qualities of children and the interaction of the children’s environment would have an impact how the child would grow develop further. He placed emphasis on the significance of observing the child in multiple environments, which is known as ecological systems, to understand his ideas.

The expected relationship dynamic between the child and others is based off of Bronfenbrenner’s theory. His system starts with the smallest and most intimate relationships and environments of the child which is known as the Microsystem. The microsystem comprises of the home, school, family, peer group, and community that surrounds the child. Which then follows into the Mesosystem. The Mesosystem focuses on the interaction of different microsystems, such the interactions of home and school or between peer group and family. The systems develop further into the Exosystem, which focuses on the association of two or more settings. A setting may not contain the developing child but affects the child indirectly. This system normally consists of the parents’ workplaces and extended family members. Then we see the Macrosystem which consists of the largest and most distant collection of people and places but still has an influence on the child. This would include cultural patterns and values or the child’s dominant beliefs and ideas. Chronosystem is the last of Bronfenbrenner’s systems and it uses time to demonstrate the change in the child’s environments. This includes a change in family structure, or changing of an address.

Inevitable isolation of feral children has caused little interaction with others. Which have caused little correlation to all of the ecological systems. That means that these children start building these dynamics much later in their lives. Which in turn may make it harder for them to build further and more intimate relationships.

But Victor, Oksana, Genie, and Edik all were able to beat these odds. Victor was able to maintain a relationship with Jean-Marc Itard the man helping him immerge into society. Edik, has created relationship with his foster family. Genie was able to create a relationship with her mother and brother. Oksana was able to even go as far to have a boyfriend.

Erikson and Freud’s Psychosocial Theories

According the definition of a feral child, the child has experienced little to no human interaction with others. Which in turn makes it difficult for the child to experience social contact and know correct social cues.

Sigmund Freud, an Austrian neurologist, suggested that our personality and social cues development centered around the effects of sexual pleasure. He believed that every child had needs and demands that needed to be met. Further, If conflict was not resolved in that particular stage, then the person would remain in that stage until conflict has been resolved which is also known as fixation.

Freud’s psychosocial theory began with the Oral Stage. This is the stage when the child focuses on putting things in their mouths. If fixation occurs in this stage it can result in problems with smoking, drinking, eating, or nail biting. The Anal Stage is the next in his theory, this stage focuses on controlling bladder and bowel movements. If a problem is not resolved, the fixation is that the child is either overly controlling or out of control. The Phallic Stage is when children begin to understand the differences between male and female. Being fixated in this stage would cause problems in their relationships. The Latency Stage, another of Freud’s theories, is a period of calm in the children where there is low psychosexual energy, most psychologist do not consider this as a stage. The Genital Stage is the last stage, which focuses on sexual pleasure is (something missing) genitals and it remains for the rest of life.

Feral children live with no contact with other humans. Therefore it is difficult for the children to resolve conflict in these stages. Thus, creating a fixation problems in several stages.

Erik Erikson, an American-German neo-Freudian psychologist, focused on the importance of shift in thinking on personality by using his psychosocial theory. His theory looks at how social influences contribute to the child personalities throughout the their lifespans. His theory starts with Trust versus Mistrust, this stage consist of children learning that they can trust their caregivers to take care of them; this stage carries on for the rest of the children’s lives. The children, transitions into the next stage which is Autonomy versus Doubt, this is when toddlers begin to control what happens to their bodies such as, potty training and controlling temper tantrums. Initiative versus Guilt is when if trust and autonomy are established the children if encouraged feels the need to express their curiosity. If not the children feel very guilty for expressing themselves. Identity versus Role Confusion is the next stage, that is when adolescents are trying to figure who they are and where they belong. In addition, this is where they experience an identity crisis. Intimacy versus Isolation is where young adults try to balance their work, home, and personal lives and relationships. Generativity versus Stagnation, where adults feel the need to relive their life accomplishments and if there is something they are not pleased with, they place that disappointment and pressure on others. Often times that is the stage where midlife crises would occur. Integrity versus Despair is the last off Erikson’s Psychosocial Theory that is when the elderlies look back at their lives and decide if their satisfied. If the they feel as if they lived their lives to the fullest thy go on living peacefully, if not they die depressed.

Feral children have no clue as to which social cues are acceptable and which are not. Nor, have they had the chance to go through most of these stages. At age 30 is when some children are experiencing their “identity crisis” instead of adolescence. Oksana, Edik, and Victor are all excellent examples on how feral children were able to exceed the normal expectations of typical Feral children. Oksana again, currently lives in an area where she is forced to interact with others, and was able to have a boyfriend. Edik, had to live with several children and was fitting in with them. Victor, was able to understand that after his foster father had died, that it was appropriate to take the place setting off of the table.

Piaget’s Cognitive Developmental Stage Theory

Piaget was a Swiss psychologist in the late 1800s who believed that intelligence is something that grows and develops throughout a series of stages. His first stage theory is the Sensorimotor Stage. This is the stage that children experience the world through their senses. The children begin to separate people from the world around them. The Next is the Preoperational Stage, where children use words to connect with the world around them. The children use words to represent objects. The following stage is Concrete Operational Stage, that is where children are able to think more logically and in a more mathematical way. He last stage is the Formal Operational Stage, that is when they gain the ability to think abstractly and can compare and contrast items in the child’s head.

Feral children do not get to experience going to school or growing up normally. Most of them are growing up with wild animals, therefore there is no chance of them learning language. However, Genie, Oksana, and Edik were all able to overcome the stereotypes and were taught how to speak. Even though Genie regressed after a while, she was still able to learn and develop.

Kohlberg’s Moral Development Stage Theory

Kohlberg is an American psychologist who believed that our ability to reason about ethical solutions changes over our lives, growth is shown over three moral stages. The first of the stages is the Preconventional Stage. This stage focuses on the children making decisions to avoid punishment. Next is the Conventional Stage, which is where children l make moral choices based on the opinions of others. Kohlberg’s last stage is the Postconventional Stage and that is when moral reasoning is deciphering what is right or wrong which is developed from within.

It would be difficult for feral children to decipher what the difference between right and wrong is. All the Feral children know is doing whatever it takes to survive which would more than likely be carried into their new lives. Though I have no physical proof of any moral development from the feral children, looking back the other developmental theories show that it is clear that they have grown in this theory. Such as the fact that the children understand social cues or that are they able to have proper conversations.


These children grew socially, and were able to pick up on certain social cues according to Erikson and Freud’s theory. They were able to create relationships with other people, according Bronfenbrenner’s theory. The children were able to learn how to speak and communicate with others according to Piaget’s theory. Utilizing these theories, they were able to grow morally as human beings. The goal wasn’t to prove that feral children are fully capable of living in society The point was to show that feral children are more human than people cared to believe.

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