Family Socialization Essay Questions

Learning Objectives

  1. Identify five agents of socialization.
  2. Describe positive and negative aspects of the socialization these agents produce.

Several institutional and other sources of socialization exist and are called agents of socialization. The first of these, the family, is certainly the most important agent of socialization for infants and young children.

The Family

Should parents get the credit when their children turn out to be good kids and even go on to accomplish great things in life? Should they get the blame if their children turn out to be bad? No parent deserves all the credit or blame for their children’s successes and failures in life, but the evidence indicates that our parents do affect us profoundly. In many ways, we even end up resembling our parents in more than just appearance.

Sociology Making a Difference

Understanding Racial Socialization

In a society that is still racially prejudiced, African American parents continue to find it necessary to teach their children about African American culture and to prepare them for the bias and discrimination they can expect to encounter. Scholars in sociology and other disciplines have studied this process of racial socialization. One of their most interesting findings is that African American parents differ in the degree of racial socialization they practice: some parents emphasize African American identity and racial prejudice to a considerable degree, while other parents mention these topics to their children only minimally. The reasons for these differences have remained unclear.

Sociologist Jason E. Shelton (2008) analyzed data from a national random sample of African Americans to determine these reasons, in what he called “one of the most comprehensive analyses to date of racial socialization strategies among African Americans” (p. 237). Among other questions, respondents were asked whether “in raising your children, have you done or told them things to help them know what it means to be Black.” They were also asked whether “there are any other things you’ve done or told your children to help them know how to get along with White people.”

In his major results, Shelton found that respondents were more likely to practice racial socialization if they were older, female, and living outside the South; if they perceived that racial discrimination was a growing problem and were members of civil rights or other organization aimed at helping African Americans; and if they had higher incomes.

These results led Shelton to conclude that “African Americans are not a culturally monolithic group,” as they differ in “the parental lessons they impart to their children about race relations” (2008, p. 253). Further, the parents who do practice racial socialization “do so in order to demystify and empower their offspring to seize opportunities in the larger society” (p. 253).

Shelton’s study helps us to understand the factors accounting for differences in racial socialization by African American parents, and it also helps us understand that the parents who do attempt to make their children aware of U.S. race relations are merely trying, as most parents do, to help their children get ahead in life. By increasing our understanding of these matters, Shelton’s research has helped make a difference.

The reason we turn out much like our parents, for better or worse, is that our families are such an important part of our socialization process. When we are born, our primary caregivers are almost always one or both of our parents. For several years we have more contact with them than with any other adults. Because this contact occurs in our most formative years, our parents’ interaction with us and the messages they teach us can have a profound impact throughout our lives, as indicated by the stories of Sarah Patton Boyle and Lillian Smith presented earlier.

The ways in which our parents socialize us depend on many factors, two of the most important of which are our parents’ social class and our own biological sex. Melvin Kohn (1965, 1977) found that working-class and middle-class parents tend to socialize their children very differently. Kohn reasoned that working-class parents tend to hold factory and other jobs in which they have little autonomy and instead are told what to do and how to do it. In such jobs, obedience is an important value, lest the workers be punished for not doing their jobs correctly. Working-class parents, Kohn thought, should thus emphasize obedience and respect for authority as they raise their children, and they should favor spanking as a primary way of disciplining their kids when they disobey. In contrast, middle-class parents tend to hold white-collar jobs where autonomy and independent judgment are valued and workers get ahead by being creative. These parents should emphasize independence as they raise their children and should be less likely than working-class parents to spank their kids when they disobey.

If parents’ social class influences how they raise their children, it is also true that the sex of their children affects how they are socialized by their parents. Many studies find that parents raise their daughters and sons quite differently as they interact with them from birth. We will explore this further in Chapter 11 “Gender and Gender Inequality”, but suffice it to say here that parents help their girls learn how to act and think “like girls,” and they help their boys learn how to act and think “like boys.” That is, they help their daughters and sons learn their gender (Wood, 2009). For example, they are gentler with their daughters and rougher with their sons. They give their girls dolls to play with, and their boys guns. Girls may be made of “sugar and spice and everything nice” and boys something quite different, but their parents help them greatly, for better or worse, turn out that way. To the extent this is true, our gender stems much more from socialization than from biological differences between the sexes, or so most sociologists probably assume. To return to a question posed earlier, if Gilligan is right that boys and girls reach moral judgments differently, socialization matters more than biology for how they reach these judgments.

As the “Learning From Other Societies” box illustrates, various cultures socialize their children differently. We can also examine cross-cultural variation in socialization with data from the World Values Survey, which was administered to almost six dozen nations. Figure 4.1 “Percentage Believing That Obedience Is Especially Important for a Child to Learn” shows the percentage of people in several countries who think it is “especially important for children to learn obedience at home.” Here we see some striking differences in the value placed on obedience, with the United States falling somewhat in between the nations in the figure.

Learning From Other Societies

Children and Socialization in Japan

This chapter ends with the observation that American children need to be socialized with certain values in order for our society to be able to address many of the social issues, including hate crimes and violence against women, facing it. As we consider the socialization of American children, the experience of Japan offers a valuable lesson.

Recall from Chapter 2 “Eye on Society: Doing Sociological Research” that Japan’s culture emphasizes harmony, cooperation, and respect for authority. Socialization in Japan is highly oriented toward the teaching of the values just listed, with much of it stressing the importance of belonging to a group and dependence, instead of individual autonomy and independence. This is especially true in Japanese schools, which, as two sociologists write, “stress the similarity of all children, and the importance of the group” (Schneider & Silverman, 2010, p. 24). Let’s see how this happens (Hendry, 1987; Schwalb & Schwalb, 1996).

From the time they begin school, Japanese children learn to value their membership in their homeroom, or kumi, and they spend several years in the same kumi. Each kumi treats its classroom as a “home away from home,” as the children arrange the classroom furniture, bring in plants and other things from their own homes, and clean the classroom every day. At recess one kumi will play against another. In an interesting difference from standard practice in the United States, a kumi in junior high school will stay in its classroom while the teachers for, say, math and social science move from one classroom to another. In the United States, of course, the opposite is true: teachers stay in their classrooms, and students move from one room to another.

Other practices in Japanese schools further the learning of Japanese values. Young schoolchildren wear the same uniforms. Japanese teachers use constant drills to teach them how to bow, and they have the children repeatedly stand up and sit down as a group. These practices help students learn respect for authority and help enhance the sense of group belonging that the kumi represents. Whereas teachers in the United States routinely call on individual students to answer a question, Japanese teachers rarely do this. Rather than competing with each other for a good grade, Japanese schoolchildren are evaluated according to the performance of the kumi as a whole. Because decision making within the kumi is done by consensus, the children learn the need to compromise and to respect each other’s feelings.

Because the members of a kumi spend so much time together for so many years, they develop extremely close friendships and think of themselves more as members of the kumi than as individuals. They become very loyal to the kumi and put its interests above their own individual interests. In these and other ways, socialization in Japanese schools helps the children and adolescents there learn the Japanese values of harmony, group loyalty, and respect for authority. If American children learned these values to a greater degree, it would be easier to address violence and other issues facing the United States.

Figure 4.1 Percentage Believing That Obedience Is Especially Important for a Child to Learn

Source: Data from World Values Survey, 2002.

The family is perhaps the most important agent of socialization for children. Parents’ values and behavior patterns profoundly influence those of their daughters and sons.

Randen Pederson – Family – CC BY 2.0.

Schools

Schools socialize children in several ways. First, students learn a formal curriculum, informally called the “three Rs”: reading, writing, and arithmetic. This phase of their socialization is necessary for them to become productive members of their society. Second, because students interact every day at school with their peers, they ideally strengthen their social interaction skills. Third, they interact with authority figures, their teachers, who are not their parents. For children who have not had any preschooling, their teachers are often the first authority figures they have had other than their parents. The learning they gain in relating to these authority figures is yet another important component of their socialization.

Functional theorists cite all these aspects of school socialization, but conflict theorists instead emphasize that schools in the United States also impart a hidden curriculum by socializing children to accept the cultural values of the society in which the schools are found. To be more specific, children learn primarily positive things about the country’s past and present; they learn the importance of being neat, patient, and obedient; and they learn to compete for good grades and other rewards. In this manner, they learn to love America and not to recognize its faults, and they learn traits that prepare them for jobs and careers that will bolster the capitalist economy. Children are also socialized to believe that failure, such as earning poor grades, stems from not studying hard enough and, more generally, from not trying hard enough (Booher-Jennings, 2008; Bowles & Gintis, 1976). This process reinforces the blaming-the-victim ideology discussed in Chapter 1 “Sociology and the Sociological Perspective”. Schools are also a significant source of gender socialization, as even in this modern day, teachers and curricula send out various messages that reinforce the qualities traditionally ascribed to females and males, and students engage in recess and other extracurricular activities that do the same thing (Booher-Jennings, 2008; Thorne, 1993).

Schools socialize children by teaching them their formal curricula but also a hidden curriculum that imparts the cultural values of the society in which the schools are found. One of these values is the need to respect authority, as evidenced by these children standing in line.

Peers

When you were a 16-year-old, how many times did you complain to your parent(s), “All of my friends are [doing so and so]. Why can’t I? It isn’t fair!” As this all-too-common example indicates, our friends play a very important role in our lives. This is especially true during adolescence, when peers influence our tastes in music, clothes, and so many other aspects of our lives, as the now-common image of the teenager always on a cell phone reminds us. But friends are important during other parts of the life course as well. We rely on them for fun, for emotional comfort and support, and for companionship. That is the upside of friendships.

The downside of friendships is called peer pressure, with which you are undoubtedly familiar. Suppose it is Friday night, and you are studying for a big exam on Monday. Your friends come by and ask you to go with them to get a pizza and a drink. You would probably agree to go with them, partly because you really dislike studying on a Friday night, but also because there is at least some subtle pressure on you to do so. As this example indicates, our friends can influence us in many ways. During adolescence, their interests can affect our own interests in film, music, and other aspects of popular culture. More ominously, adolescent peer influences have been implicated in underage drinking, drug use, delinquency, and hate crimes, such as the killing of Charlie Howard, recounted at the beginning of this chapter (Agnew, 2007) (see Chapter 5 “Social Structure and Social Interaction”).

After we reach our 20s and 30s, our peers become less important in our lives, especially if we get married. Yet even then our peers do not lose all their importance, as married couples with young children still manage to get out with friends now and then. Scholars have also begun to emphasize the importance of friendships with coworkers for emotional and practical support and for our continuing socialization (Elsesser & Peplau, 2006; Marks, 1994).

Our peers also help socialize us and may even induce us to violate social norms.

The Mass Media

The mass media are another agent of socialization. Television shows, movies, popular music, magazines, Web sites, and other aspects of the mass media influence our political views; our tastes in popular culture; our views of women, people of color, and gays; and many other beliefs and practices.

In an ongoing controversy, the mass media are often blamed for youth violence and many other of our society’s ills. The average child sees thousands of acts of violence on television and in the movies before reaching young adulthood. Rap lyrics often seemingly extol very ugly violence, including violence against women. Commercials can greatly influence our choice of soda, shoes, and countless other products. The mass media also reinforce racial and gender stereotypes, including the belief that women are sex objects and suitable targets of male violence. In the General Social Survey (GSS), about 28% of respondents said that they watch four or more hours of television every day, while another 46% watch two to three hours daily (see Figure 4.2 “Average Number of Hours of Television Watched Daily”). The mass media certainly are an important source of socialization unimaginable a half-century ago.

Figure 4.2 Average Number of Hours of Television Watched Daily

Source: Data from General Social Survey, 2008.

As the mass media socialize children, adolescents, and even adults, a key question is the extent to which media violence causes violence in our society (Surette, 2011). Studies consistently uncover a strong correlation between watching violent television shows and movies and committing violence. However, this does not necessarily mean that watching the violence actually causes violent behavior: perhaps people watch violence because they are already interested in it and perhaps even committing it. Scholars continue to debate the effect of media violence on youth violence. In a free society, this question is especially important, as the belief in this effect has prompted calls for monitoring the media and the banning of certain acts of violence. Civil libertarians argue that such calls smack of censorship that violates the First Amendment to the Constitution, whole others argue that they fall within the First Amendment and would make for a safer society. Certainly the concern and debate over mass media violence will continue for years to come.

Religion

One final agent of socialization is religion, discussed further in Chapter 12 “Aging and the Elderly”. Although religion is arguably less important in people’s lives now than it was a few generations ago, it still continues to exert considerable influence on our beliefs, values, and behaviors.

Here we should distinguish between religious preference (e.g., Protestant, Catholic, or Jewish) and religiosity (e.g., how often people pray or attend religious services). Both these aspects of religion can affect your values and beliefs on religious and nonreligious issues alike, but their particular effects vary from issue to issue. To illustrate this, consider the emotionally charged issue of abortion. People hold very strong views on abortion, and many of their views stem from their religious beliefs. Yet which aspect of religion matters the most, religious preference or religiosity? General Social Survey data help us answer this question (Figure 4.3 “Religious Preference, Religiosity, and Belief That Abortion Should Be Legal for Any Reason”). It turns out that religious preference, if we limit it for the sake of this discussion to Catholics versus Protestants, does not matter at all: Catholics and Protestants in the GSS exhibit roughly equal beliefs on the abortion issue, as about one-third of each group thinks abortion should be allowed for any reason. (The slight difference shown in the table is not statistically significant.) However, religiosity matters a lot: GSS respondents who pray daily are only about half as likely as those who rarely or never pray to think abortion should be allowed.

Figure 4.3 Religious Preference, Religiosity, and Belief That Abortion Should Be Legal for Any Reason

Source: Data from General Social Survey, 2008.

Key Takeaways

  • The ways in which parents socialize children depend in part on the parents’ social class and on their child’s biological sex.
  • Schools socialize children by teaching them both the formal curriculum and a hidden curriculum.
  • Peers are an important source of emotional support and companionship, but peer pressure can induce individuals to behave in ways they might ordinarily regard as wrong.
  • The mass media are another important agent of socialization, and scholars debate the effect the media have on violence in society.
  • In considering the effects of religion on socialization, we need to distinguish between religious preference and religiosity.

For Your Review

  1. Describe one important value or attitude you have that is the result of socialization by your parent(s).
  2. Do you agree that there is a hidden curriculum in secondary schools? Explain your answer.
  3. Briefly describe one example of how peers influenced you or someone you know in a way that you now regard as negative.

References

Agnew, R. (2007). Pressured into crime: An overview of general strain theory. New York, NY: Oxford University Press.

Booher-Jennings, J. (2008). Learning to label: Socialisation, gender, and the hidden curriculum of high-stakes testing. British Journal of Sociology of Education, 29, 149–160.

Bowles, S., & Gintis, H. (1976). Schooling in capitalist America: Educational reforms and the contradictions of economic life. New York, NY: Basic Books.

Elsesser, K., & Peplau, L. A. (2006). The glass partition: Obstacles to cross-sex friendships at work. Human Relations, 59, 1077–1100.

Hendry, J. (1987). Understanding Japanese society. London, England: Croom Helm.

Kohn, M. (1977). Class and conformity. Homewood, IL: Dorsey.

Kohn, M. (1965). Social class and parent-child relationships: An interpretation. American Journal of Sociology, 68, 471–480.

Marks, S. R. (1994). Intimacy in the public realm: The case of co-workers. Social Forces, 72, 843–858.

Schneider, L., & Silverman, A. (2010). Global sociology: Introducing five contemporary societies (5th ed.). New York, NY: McGraw-Hill.

Schwalb, D. W., & Schwalb, B. J. (Eds.). (1996). Japanese childrearing: Two generations of scholarship. New York, NY: Guilford Press.

Shelton, J. E. (2008). The investment in blackness hypothesis: Toward greater understanding of who teaches what during racial socialization. Du Bois Review: Social Science Research on Race, 5(2), 235–257.

Surette, R. (2011). Media, crime, and criminal justice: Images, realities, and policies (4th ed.). Belmont, CA: Wadsworth.

Thorne, B. (1993). Gender play: Girls and boys in school. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press.

Wood, J. T. (2009). Gendered lives: Communication, gender, and culture. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth.

This is a derivative of Sociology: Understanding and Changing the Social World by a publisher who has requested that they and the original author not receive attribution, which was originally released and is used under CC BY-NC-SA. This work, unless otherwise expressly stated, is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

On November 4, 1970, child welfare authorities discovered a 13-year-old child who had been locked up in a bedroom of a house in Arcadia, California for the majority of her life. The young girl, known to the public as Genie (a pseudonym), was one of the worst cases in recorded history of extreme abuse, neglect, and social isolation. From the age of about 20 months until authorities found her at the age of 13 years and 7 months, Genie had been mostly strapped to a child’s toilet or bound to a crib in addition to being severely malnourished. Her father, who had believed that Genie was mentally-retarded, had decided to isolate her and forbade the family from interacting with her. She consequently lacked any form of socialization since she was a toddler and had suffered mentally from the social deprivation. Psychologists, linguists, and other scientists began studying Genie’s case of near-total isolation. Many of them determined that the absence of socializing opportunities in the early years of her life had led her to missing the critical period of language acquisition, and that Genie ultimately remained unable to fully acquire the use of language.

Although Genie’s case is one of the most well-known cases of social isolation, there have been many other documented or alleged cases of feral children in history since the 14th century. These cases throughout time illustrate the importance of socialization among humans. Many have involved alternative socialization experiences with animals in the absence of human interaction. One recently-documented case involves Oxana Malaya in Ukraine in the 1980s. From about the age of three to the age of eight, Oxana began living with the family’s dogs after her alcoholic parents had forgotten her outside one evening. When authorities found her, she was running around on all fours and barking like her canine companions. However, through resocialization, Oxana was able to subdue her dog-like behaviors and eventually learned to speak Russian. Despite her progress, she remained somewhat intellectually-impaired due to the years of neglect and absence of human socialization.

Both Genie and Oxana’s well-known cases of extreme isolation demonstrate the importance of human interaction in the socialization process among people. This chapter on socialization introduces the different types of socialization as well as the need for socialization among humans in general. It goes on to provide the various theoretical understandings of socialization before discussing some key studies on the topic.

Elements of Socialization[edit]

Socialization is a fundamental sociological concept, comprising a number of elements. While not every sociologist will agree which elements are the most important, or even how to define some of the elements of socialization, the elements outlined below should help clarify what is meant by socialization.

Goals of Socialization[edit]

Arnett,[1] in presenting a new theoretical understanding of socialization (see below), outlined what he believes to be the three goals of socialization:

  1. impulse control and the development of a conscience
  2. role preparation and performance, including occupational roles, gender roles, and roles in institutions such as marriage and parenthood
  3. the cultivation of sources of meaning, or what is important, valued, and to be lived for

In short, socialization is the process that prepares humans to function in social life. It should be re-iterated here that socialization is culturally relative - people in different cultures and people that occupy different racial, classed, gendered, sexual, and religious social locations are socialized differently. This distinction does not and should not inherently force an evaluative judgement. Socialization, because it is the adoption of culture, is going to be different in every culture and within different subcultures. Socialization, as both process or an outcome, is not better or worse in any particular culture or subculture.

It should also be noted that, while socialization is a key sociological process in the development of individuals who can function in human society, not every aspect of human behavior is learned. For instance, there is evidence that most children have innate empathy for individuals who are wilfully injured and consider it wrong.[2] Thus, some aspects of human behavior that one might believe are learned, like empathy and morals, may, in fact, be biologically determined. To what extent human behavior is biologically determined vs. learned is still an open question in the study of human behavior, but recent reviews of biological, genetic, neuroscience, and psychological literatures suggest that culture can influence biology and vice versa (e.g., nurture becomes nature through processes wherein learned responses and behaviors feed the development of the brain and the activation of genetic potential).[3][4][5]

Primary and Secondary Socialization[edit]

Socialization is a life process, but is generally divided into two parts: Primary socialization takes place early in life, as a child and adolescent. Secondary socialization refers to the socialization that takes place throughout one's life, both as a child and as one encounters new groups that require additional socialization. While there are scholars who argue that only one or the other of these occurs, most social scientists tend to combine the two, arguing that the basic or core identity of the individual develops during primary socialization, with more specific changes occurring later - secondary socialization - in response to the acquisition of new group memberships and roles and differently structured social situations. The need for later life socialization may stem from the increasing complexity of society with its corresponding increase in varied roles and responsibilities.[6]

Mortimer and Simmons outline three specific ways these two parts of socialization differ:[6]

  1. content - Socialization in childhood is thought to be concerned with the regulation of biological drives. In adolescence, socialization is concerned with the development of overarching values and the self-image. In adulthood, socialization involves more overt and specific norms and behaviors, such as those related to the work role as well as more superficial personality features.
  2. context - In earlier periods, the socializee (the person being socialized) more clearly assumes the status of learner within the context of the initial setting (which may be a family of orientation, an orphanage, a period of homelessness, or any other initial social groups at the beginning of a child's life), the school (or other educational context), or the peer group. Also, relationships in the earlier period are more likely to be affectively charged, i.e., highly emotional. In adulthood, though the socializee takes the role of student at times, much socialization occurs after the socializee has assumed full incumbency of the adult role. There is also a greater likelihood of more formal relationships due to situational contexts (e.g., work environment), which moderates down the affective component.
  3. response - The child and adolescent may be more easily malleable than the adult. Also, much adult socialization is self-initiated and voluntary; adults can leave or terminate the process at any time if they have the proper resources (symbolic, financial, and social) to do so.

Socialization is, of course, a social process. As such, it involves interactions between people. Socialization, as noted in the distinction between primary and secondary, can take place in multiple contexts and as a result of contact with numerous groups. Some of the more significant contributors to the socialization process are: parents, guardians, friends, schools, siblings or other family members, social clubs (like religions or sports teams), life partners (romantic or platonic), and co-workers. Each of these groups include a culture that must be learned and to some degree appropriated by the socializee in order to gain admittance to the group.

Broad and Narrow Socialization[edit]

Arnett proposed an interesting though seldom used distinction in types of socialization.[1] Arnett distinguishes between broad and narrow socialization:

  • broad socialization is intended to promote independence, individualism, and self-expression; it is dubbed broad because this type of socialization has the potential of resulting in a broad range of outcomes
  • narrow socialization is intended to promote obedience and conformity; it is dubbed narrow because there is a narrow range of outcomes

These distinctions correspond to Arnett's definition of socialization, which is:

the whole process by which an individual born with behavioral potentialities of enormously wide range, is led to develop actual behavior which is confined with a much narrower range; the range of what is customary and acceptable for him according to the standards of his group

Arnett explains that his understanding of socialization should not be understood as having just two options, broad or narrow. Instead, the author argues that socialization can be broad or narrow within each of the seven socializing forces he outlines (e.g., family, friends, etc.). Because each force can be either broad or narrow, there is a wide variety of possible broad/narrow socialization combinations. Finally, Arnett notes two examples where his distinction is relevant. First, Arnett argues that there are often differences in socialization by gender. Where these differences exist, argues Arnett, socialization tends to be narrower for women than for men (other sociologists have demonstrated similarities in other minority groups). Arnett also argues that Japanese socialization is narrow as there is more pressure toward conformity in that culture. Arnett argues that this may account for the lower crime rates in Japan.

Total Institutions[edit]

Not all socialization is voluntary nor is all socialization successful. There are components of society designed specifically to resocialize individuals who were not successfully socialized to begin with. For instance, prisons and mental health institutions are designed to resocialize people who are deemed to have not been successfully socialized. Depending on the degree of isolation and resocialization that takes place in a given institution, some of these institutions are labeled total institutions. In his classic study of total institutions, Erving Goffman gives the following characteristics of total institutions:[7]

  1. all aspects of life are conducted in the same place under the same authority
  2. the individual is a member of a large cohort, all treated alike
  3. all daily activities (over a 24-hour period) are tightly scheduled
  4. there is a sharp split between supervisors and lower participants
  5. information about the member's fate is withheld

The most common examples of total institutions include mental hospitals, prisons, and military boot camps, though there are numerous other institutions that could be considered total institutions as well. The goal of total institutions is to facilitate a complete break with one's old life in order for the institution to resocialize the individual into a new life.

Mortimer and Simmons note a difference in socialization methodologies in different types of institutions.[6] When the goal of an institution is socialization (primary or secondary), the institution tends to use normative pressures. When the goal of an institution is resocialization of deviants, coercion is frequently involved.

In all such cases (and especially in total institutions), this process is accomplished by what Goffman called "the mortification of the self," which refers to the processes whereby authority figures strip unwanted elements from the person under their care and / or control to fashion a type of self society deems acceptable or normative. In the case of mental patients and military personnel, for example, new admissions to the institutions are stripped of their existing symbolic resources (e.g., fashion choices, schedules, methods of speech, etc.) so they may be re-fashioned in the image of the "healthy patient" or "capable soldier." Thus while much socialization involves learning and adopting new lessons, socialization often also involves the repression or suppression of individuality, prior cultural ties, and / or former patterns of behavior.[7][8]

The Importance of Socialization[edit]

One of the most common methods used to illustrate the importance of socialization is to draw upon the few unfortunate cases of children who were, through neglect, misfortune, or wilful abuse, not socialized by adults while they were growing up. Such children are called "feral" or wild. Some feral children have been confined by people (usually their own parents); in some cases this child abandonment was due to the parents' rejection of a child's severe intellectual or physical impairment. Feral children may have experienced severe child abuse or trauma before being abandoned or running away. Others are alleged to have been brought up by animals; some are said to have lived in the wild on their own. When completely brought up by non-human animals, the feral child exhibits behaviors (within physical limits) almost entirely like those of the particular care-animal, such as its fear of or indifference to humans.

Feral children lack the basic social skills which are normally learned in the process of socialization. For example, they may be unable to learn to use a toilet, have trouble learning to walk upright and display a complete lack of interest in the human activity around them. They often seem mentally impaired and have almost insurmountable trouble learning a human language. The impaired ability to learn language after having been isolated for so many years is often attributed to the existence of a critical period for language learning, and taken as evidence in favor of the Critical Period Hypothesis, and the examples of such children are often used to cast doubts upon potential biological and genetic determinants of human behavior and development. It is very difficult to socialize a child who became isolated at a very young age into a relatively normal member of society and such individuals often need close care throughout their lives.

There are, unfortunately, a number of examples of such children that have been well-documented, including:

Theoretical Understandings of Socialization[edit]

Socialization, as a concept in social scientific research, has evolved over time. While the basic idea outlined above has been a component of most understandings of socialization, there have been quite a variety of definitions and theories of socialization. Some of these approaches are presented here as definitional variety is often informative.[10][6][11]

  • Symbolic Interactionism - the self develops as a result of interrelated social interactions and interpretive processes; as a result, socialization is highly dependent on the situations in which the actor finds him/herself and the ways these situations are "made sense of" by the being or others; this approach also argues that socialization is a continuous, lifelong process
  • Role Theory - socialization is seen as a process of acquisition of appropriate norms, attitudes, self-images, values, and role behaviors that enable acceptance in the group and effective performance of new roles; in this framework, socialization is seen as a conservative force, permitting the perpetuation of the social organization in spite of the turn-over of individual members through time
  • Reinforcement Theory - the self develops as a result of cognitive evaluations of costs and benefits; this understanding assumes that the socializee, in approaching new roles, is an independent and active negotiator for advantages in relationships with role partners and membership groups
  • Internalization Theory - socialization is a series of stages in which the individual learns to participate in various levels of organization of society; this theory contends that the child internalizes a cognitive frame of reference for interpersonal relations and a common system of expressive symbolism in addition to a moral conscience; this approach was advocated by Talcott Parsons

Recent research[12] suggests that human children are hard-wired to exactly imitate the roles of adults, including actions that are not pragmatic. This is referred to as "overimitation" and, while seemingly maladaptive from an evolutionary perspective, it is possible that this is one of the characteristics of humans that facilitates the transmission of culture from generation to generation.[12] Despite this possibility, however, arguments in this vein typically stress conformity among children, and ignore variation and deviance (especially in the context of minority groups).

Socialization as Joining Groups[edit]

Socialization has addressed the problem of individual adjustment to society. In all of the approaches outlined above, socialization has, in one way or another, referred to the idea that society shapes its members toward compliance and cooperation with societal requirements. In order to reduce confusion, develop a research methodology for measuring socialization, and potentially lead to the comparability of research findings from different studies, Long and Hadden proposed a revised understanding of socialization.[11] Rather than referring to a vague adoption or learning of culture, Long and Hadden reframed socialization as "the medium for transforming newcomers into bona fide members of a group." Before discussing some of the specifics of this approach, it may be useful to outline some of the critiques Long and Hadden present of earlier approaches to socialization.

According to Long and Hadden, many earlier approaches to socialization extended socialization to every part of human social life. As a result, everyone becomes both a socializing agent (socializer) and a novice (socializee) in all encounters with others. This conceptualization leaves socialization without a social home; it is all around but no place in particular. Another criticism of previous approaches is that they allowed socialization to include anything, and anything which is part of the process at one time may be excluded at another. With this conceptualization, any phenomenon may shift its status in the socialization process without changing its own composition or expression. In other words, socialization includes virtually everything, excludes almost nothing, and shifts with circumstance and outcomes. Additionally, previous approaches to socialization lacked specificity about the nature of socialization activity. Defining socialization by its outcomes made it unnecessary to stipulate the nature of the process conceptually. Socialization could be attributed to this or that but in order to truly understand what is taking place it is necessary to go beyond just pointing to socializing agents and specify what it is about those agents that is doing the socializing. Another serious drawback of earlier approaches is that they disregard the process component of socialization. Doing so limits the socialization concept to employment primarily as a post hoc interpretive category that is used to lend significance to findings defined and developed in other terms.

As a result of these criticisms, Long and Hadden found themselves presented with a two-fold task:[11]

  • locate socialization and its social boundaries more precisely
  • specify the distinctive properties which distinguish it from related phenomena

To accomplish this, Long and Hadden developed a new understanding of socialization, "socialization is the process of creating and incorporating new members of a group from a pool of newcomers, carried out by members and their allies". Under this understanding, the principal agents of socialization are certified and practicing members of the group to which novices are being socialized. It should be noted that certified here is only a shortened way of saying "a socially approved member of the group." Thus, Long and Hadden's revised understanding of socialization sees it as both the process and outcome of joining groups.

Research Examples[edit]

Numerous examples of research on socialization could be presented in this section. One important area of socialization research involves differences in gender socialization, but much of that research is summarized in the chapter on gender. The following three research examples are interesting in that they explore both primary and secondary socialization and do so from varying perspectives.

Socialization and Social Class[edit]

Ellis, Lee, and Peterson,[13] developing a research agenda begun by Melvin L. Kohn,[14] explored differences in how parents raise their children relative to their social class. Kohn found that lower class parents were more likely to emphasize conformity in their children whereas middle-class parents were more likely to emphasize creativity and self-reliance.[14] Ellis et. al. proposed and found that parents value conformity over self-reliance in children to the extent that conformity superseded self-reliance as a criterion for success in their own endeavors. In other words, Ellis et. al. verified that the reason lower-class parents emphasize conformity in their children is because they experience conformity in their day-to-day activities. For example, factory work is far more about conforming than innovation.

Another study in this same area explored a slightly different component of this relationship. Erlanger was interested in a correlation between social class and physical violence.[1] While he did not find a strong correlation indicating lower class individuals were more likely to employ physical violence in punishing their children, he did present evidence concerning several outdated propositions. Erlanger's findings include:

  • physical punishment does not lead to working class authoritarianism
  • childhood punishment experiences do not explain the greater probability that working class adults, as opposed to middle class adults, will commit homicide
  • general use of corporal punishment is not a precursor to child abuse
  • use of corporal punishment is not part of a subcultural positive evaluation of violence

It should be noted that this is an older study and that more recent findings may have shed more light on these issues. It should also be noted that Erlanger readily points out when his findings are strongly supported or weakly supported by his data. It behooves the interested party to read his paper directly rather than rely on the summary above for the specific nuances. Further, it is important to note that many of these findings (especially in relation to Kohn's original analyses) have also been verified in natural settings. Annette Lareau, for example, utilized interviews and participant observation with middle and working class parents to demonstrate two primary patterns of child rearing distinguished by class status - concerted cultivation and natural growth. Specifically, she found that working class parents encouraged natural growth wherein their children were left more free to structure their own time, which facilitated greater development of creativity and wider friendship and familial networks, but also led to an emerging sense of social restraint. On the other hand, she found that middle class parents practiced concerted cultivation wherein they intimately planned and scheduled their children's lives around extracurricular activities, which limited their children's friendship and familial networks, but facilitated an emerging sense of entitlement and important negotiation skills that could be transferred into educational and occupational advantages over the life course.

Socialization and Death Preparation[edit]

Marshall interviewed a number of retirement home residents to explore how their environment influenced their thinking about death.[15] In essence, Marshall was examining secondary socialization concerning mortality. Marshall found that a combination of relationships, behavioral changes, and retirement home culture contributed to a conception of death that was both accepting and courageous.

Residents of this particular retirement home found themselves with more time on their hands - to think about death - because they no longer had to care for their own homes. Additionally, they found themselves surrounded by people in a situation similar to their own: they were basically moving into the retirement home to prepare for death. The prevalence of elderly people facilitated discussions of death, which also helped socialize the residents into their acceptance of mortality. Finally, the retirement home community encouraged a culture of life and fulfilment in part to counter-act the frequency of death. Some residents calculated there was one death per week in the retirement home. In light of such bad numbers, it was important to the success of the community to maintain a positive culture that embraced life yet accepted death. In summary, Marshall found that numerous factors contributed to the socialization of residents into a positive lifestyle that was also accepting of and preparatory for their impending deaths.

Do College Preparation Classes Make a Difference?[edit]

Rosenbaum was interested in the effects of high school tracks on IQ.[16] High school tracks are the different levels or types of courses students can take; for instance, many high schools now include college preparation tracks and general education tracks. Rosenbaum's hypothesis was that students who followed the lower tracks (non college-preparation) would score lower on IQ tests over time than would students who followed the higher tracks (college-preparation). Considering that school is one of the primary contributors to socialization, it makes sense that participation in a given track can also result in the adoption of the norms, values, beliefs, skills, and behaviors that correspond to that track. In other words, tracks can turn into a type of self-fulfilling prophecy: you may start out at the same level as someone in a higher track, but by the time you have completed the lower track you will have become like the other students in your track.

To reduce confounding variables and ensure notable test effects, Rosenbaum selected a homogeneous, white, working class public school with five different, highly stratified classes. Rosenbaum then compared IQ scores for individuals in the different tracks at two time points. As it turns out, tracking does have a significant effect on IQ. People in lower tracks can actually see a decline in IQ compared to a possible increase among those in the upper track. In other words, tracks socialize their students into their corresponding roles.

Conclusion[edit]

Socialization is the process by which humans learn how to function in a particular society. Although it is expected that all humans experience some form of socialization during their lives, there have been some rare instances throughout history in which individuals were either forced to live in social isolation, such as the cases of Genie, or undergo socialization through alternative means, such as the case of Oxana Malaya. Both cases were depicted at the beginning of the chapter and illustrate the importance of socialization in human development. Although socialization is observably essential among humans, it is important to note here that socialization is very much culturally-relative, meaning that the process and outcomes do vary from culture to culture. This is most evident in the diverse social norms existing throughout the world. How each of us are socialized in a particular society ultimately determines what we perceive as “normal” and “abnormal,” and even then, we are susceptible to resocialization depending on the changing circumstances of our social environment or social exposure.

Additional Reading[edit]

  • Goffman, Erving. 1967. Interaction Ritual. NY: Pantheon Books.
  • Goffman, Erving. 1961. Asylums: Essays on the Social Situation of Mental Patients and other Inmates. NY: Doubleday/Anchor
  • Scott, Marvin B. and Stanford M. Lyman. 1968. “Accounts.” American Sociological Review 33: 46-62.
  • Emerson, Rana A. 2002. “Where my girls at?:” Negotiating black womanhood in music videos. Gender & Society 16(1): 115-135.
  • Baker-Sperry, Lori and Grauerholz, Liz. 2003. The pervasiveness and persistence of the feminine beauty ideal in children’s fairy tales. Gender & Society 17(5): 711-726.
  • Buysse, Jo Ann M. and Embser-Herbert, Melissa Sheridan. 2004. Constructions of gender in sport: An analysis of intercollegiate media guide cover photographs. Gender & Society 18(1): 66-81.
  • Massoni, Kelley. 2004. Modeling work: Occupational messages in Seventeen Magazine. Gender & Society 18(1): 47-65.
  • Martin, Karin A. and Kazyak, Emily. 2009. Hetero-romantic love and heterosexiness in children’s g-rated films. Gender & Society 23(3): 315-336.
  • Thoits, Peggy A. 1989. “The Sociology of Emotions.” Annual Review of Sociology 15: 317-342.
  • Kemper, Theodore D. 1987. “How Many Emotions Are There? Wedding the Social and the Autonomic Components.” American Journal of Sociology 93: 263-289.
  • Hochschild, Arlie R. 1979. “Emotion Work, Feeling Rules, and Social Structure.” American Journal of Sociology 3: 551-575.
  • Shott, Susan. 1979. “Emotion and Social Life: A Symbolic Interactionist Perspective.” American Journal of Sociology 84: 1317-1334.
  • Scheff, Thomas J. 1988. “Shame and Conformity: The Deference-Emotion System.” American Sociological Review 53: 395-406.
  • Hochschild, Arlie R. 1983. The Managed Heart: Commercialization of Human Feeling. Berkley: University of California Press.

Discussion Questions[edit]

  • Who socialized you into society and how did they do it?
  • In what way are you a socializing agent?
  • Can socialization fail?
  • How does socialization vary by social class, by race, and/or by gender?

References[edit]

  1. abArnett, Jeffrey J. 1995. Broad and Narrow Socialization: The Family in the Context of a Cultural Theory. Journal of Marriage and the Family 57( 3):617-28.
  2. ↑Decety, Jean, Kalina J. Michalska, and Yuko Akitsuki. 2008. Who caused the pain? An fMRI Investigation of Empathy and Intentionality in Children. Neuropsychologia. 46, 11:2607-2614.
  3. ↑Ridgeway, Cecilia L. 2011. Framed by Gender: How Gender Inequality Persists in the Modern World. Oxford University Press.
  4. ↑Butler, Judith. 1999. Gender Trouble: Feminism and the Subversion of Identity. Routledge.
  5. ↑Chrisler, Joan and Paula Caplan. 2002. “The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Ms. Hyde: How PMS became a Cultural Phenomenon and Psychiatric Disorder.” Annual Review of Sex Research 13:274-306.
  6. abcdMortimer, Jeylan T. and Roberta G. Simmons. 1978. Adult Socialization. Annual Review of Sociology 4:421-54.
  7. abGoffman, Erving. 1961. Asylums: Essays on the social situations of Mental Patients and other Inmates. Doubleday Publishing
  8. ↑Goffman, Erving. 1981. Forms of Talk. University of Pennsylvania Press.
  9. ↑DeGregory, Lane (2008-08-04). "The Girl in the Window". St. Petersburg Times. http://www.tampabay.com/features/humaninterest/article750838.ece. Retrieved 2008-08-04.
  10. ↑Holland, David. 1970. Familization, Socialization, and the Universe of Meaning: An Extension of the Interactional Approach to the Study of the Family. Journal of Marriage and the Family 32(3):415-27.
  11. abcLong, Theodore E. and Jeffrey K. Hadden. 1985. A Reconception of Socialization. Sociological Theory 3(1):39-49.
  12. abMark Nielsen and Keyan Tomaselli “Overimitation in Kalahari Bushman Children and the Origins of Human Cultural Cognition” in Psychological Science, May 2010, 21: 729-736.
  13. ↑Ellis, Godfrey J., Gary R. Lee, and Larry R. Petersen. 1978. Supervision and Conformity: A Cross-Cultural Analysis of Parental Socialization Values. American Journal of Sociology 84(2):386-403.
  14. abKohn, Melvin L. 1969. Class and Conformity, A Study in Values. Homewood, IL: Dorsey Press.
  15. ↑Marshall, Victor W. 1975. Socialization for Impending Death in a Retirement Village. American Journal of Sociology 80(5):1124-44.
  16. ↑Rosenbaum, James E. 1975. The Stratification of Socialization Processes. American Sociological Review 40(1):48-54.

← Culture · Groups →

← Culture · Introduction to Sociology · Groups →

A kindergarten in Afghanistan.

One thought on “Family Socialization Essay Questions

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *