Socialization is the lifelong processby which humans learn how to behave in society.
This process is different foreveryone, based on their race, gender and class. Our thoughts, feelings andbehaviour are all a result of the way in which we were socialized as children.There are many different agents of socialization, including education, family,peers and media. Our sense of self emerges from a mix of these factors in ourlives. In this essay, I will be analysing family as an agent of socializationand I will briefly discuss how family has impacted my social development.
Thereare many theories surrounding how socialization occurs and in this essay, Iwill also examine a few of these theories. Family is seen by many as the primary agent ofsocialization. It provides the foundation for the child’s social development andis the primary support system for the child.
From birth, the child iscompletely dependent on their family for survival. The family is responsiblefor providing the child with food, shelter and other basic necessities. Ourparents, or primary caregivers, are also essentially our first educators. Nomatter what type of family a child is born into, this basic unit of society playsa significant role in shaping the development of the child. They areresponsible for teaching us simple tasks such as how to dress ourselves, butthey also teach us what we need to know to become fully functioning members ofsociety. This includes teaching the child right from wrong, societal norms andvalues and teaching them how to behave appropriately in society.
As I previously mentioned, socialization is alifelong process. However, the most important phase of socialization occurs inchildhood, when the child is absorbing everything in their environment. MariaMontessori once described the child as having an “absorbent mind”, as theybegin to imitate language and behaviour used by those around them. It istherefore important for the family to model appropriate and acceptablebehaviour, as the child knows no better than to copy. Concepts such as sharingand turn taking are all social skills that the child will learn at thebeginning of life. These are crucial to a healthy social development and toallow the child to become part of their society. The child as young as birth isalso absorbing basic verbal and non-verbal communication skills, which willallow them to interact with others in society. Familial relationships are a few of the firstrelationships for a child.
Many children will develop attachments to theirparents or primary caregivers. Although most attachments have a positiveinfluence on the socialization of the child, some may have negativeeffects. Mary Ainsworth conducted aStrange Situation test and from the results, she proposed that there are threetypes of attachment; secure attachment, insecure (avoidant) attachment andinsecure (resistant) attachment. Studies have shown that ‘those rated assecurely attached to their mothers in infancy are later more sociable, havemore intimate friendships and have higher self-esteem. Those with insecureattachments have less positive and supportive friendships in adolescence'(Boyd, D.G. and Bee, H.L.
, 2014, p. 345). This is an interesting fact and it isone that I have noticed to be particularly relevant in my life. My mother was astay-at-home mum when I was a child, which meant that I easily formed anattachment to her. I attended a pre-school when I was 3 years old and I foundit very hard to transition from spending every day with my mum to spending afew hours a day without her. From my research, I believe that I had a secureattachment. When I was left alone, I was distressed but upon the return of mymum, I was easily comforted. This can be reflected in my life now.
I havenumerous positive friendships and I easily trust people. I am not dependent onthose around me, and I have an emotionally mature approach to settings outsidethe home. It goes without saying that family plays asignificant role in influencing the child’s outlook on society. Many of us growto adopt the values and beliefs of our parents. Whether this is simply how weview the world or whether it’s our political and religious beliefs, ourattitudes are greatly influenced by our family.
I consider myself lucky that Iwas given a great amount of freedom as a child. I was given the freedom to formmy own opinions on different matters. We were always taught to respect theviews of others, because everyone has the right to their own opinion. To thisday, my parents ensure that they don’t impose their religious and politicalviews on my brother and I. Now, at aged 19, I have formed many opinions of myown, some that are different to those of my parents. As with all generations,there will be differing opinions and my parents respect that. How we view ourselves and how much value wesee in ourselves is greatly affected by socialization. Family plays asubstantial role in facilitating high self-esteem in the child.
How parentsdefine and treat a child is crucial to the child’s sense of self. Siblingrivalry is a very common issue within families with two or more children.Children begin to compete for attention from their parents and if one childdoes succeed, the other may suffer with low self-esteem. It is particularlycommon when it comes to school grades. Some families emphasise educationalachievement. Siblings may begin to compete for higher grades.
For the childrenthat don’t reach the expected or favourable grades, it can result in lowconfidence as their siblings may receive more praise for their work. I cannotsay that I have experienced this in my life. As a child, I was told that I canonly do my best. Of course, I was encouraged to work hard but high grades werenever a priority in my family. My brother and I did not experience much siblingrivalry, the odd argument here and there but never to a great extent.
Family, however, is losing its status as theprimary agent of socialization. In recent years, the family structure has experiencessome significant changes. The traditional stereotype that all families mustconsist of a man, woman and their children is almost non-existent. Alongsidethis nuclear family structure, there is single-parent families, blendedfamilies, extended families and many more.
In the 21st century, manyfamilies experience separation, where the child’s parents will divorce. Same-sexmarriages are also very common nowadays, unlike 50 years ago when this wasfrowned upon by many. These variations in the family structure change the waythe child is socialized. Values and beliefs can be different to those in anuclear family. In addition to these physical changes, the family has undergonesignificant other changes with regards to values. Nowadays, within mostfamilies, both parents will work outside the home.
In the past, most women werestay-at-home mums and it was their duty to look after the household and thepeople in it. Times are changing, and women are being given many moreopportunities outside the home. This, however, means that children are spendingless and less time with their parents. Many parents are forced to put theirchildren in day-care and after-school facilities until they return from work.Traditional family values are being overruled by technology and media.
Familiesin the past sat down together at the dinner table for meals, but this traditionis now uncommon as we are now eating meals in front of the television.Technological advances and the growth of social media means that children asyoung as 3 and 4 are now sitting in front of tv or on an iPad instead ofplaying outside with peers. Family is being overtaken by mass media in terms ofthe teachings of societal norms.
Children are watching the television andobserving the behaviour of the people they are seeing. The widely popular nature vs nurture debatesuggests that our traits are either hereditary (nature) or that thesecharacteristics are influenced by our external environment (nurture). Accordingto the famous theorists Charles Horton Cooley, George Herbert Mead and SigmundFreud, our knowledge is not innate, but it is acquired. These theorists believethat we develop a sense of self through interactions with those around us. Iwill now analyse some of their theories. Charles Horton Cooley created a concept knownas the Looking-Glass Self in 1902. He focused on the idea that our self-imageis not based on how we view ourselves but based on our perception of how othersview us. He believed that our self-concept is then derived from these ideas.
Cooley believed that this is a three-step process. Step one is how we imaginewe appear to others. This includes both appearance and personality. Do weappear friendly or unfriendly, attractive or unattractive? Step two is what weimagine others think of us, based on their observations. This leads us to stepthree; we develop a self-concept based on how we think others view us. If webelieve others think highly of us, we will develop a favourable self-image.
However, if we perceive others to think negatively about us, we will develop anunfavourable self-image. Cooley also believed that often, we misinterpretpeople’s actions. We might perceive that someone thinks negatively of us,however this is not always the case. This then will have a negative effect onour self-concept. This self-identity then influences the way in which weinteract with others. Family plays a vital role in supporting the child’sdeveloping self-concept. “How parents define and treat a child is crucial tothe development of the child’s sense of self” (Moodle).
Cooley emphasised thatthis process is critical in childhood and adolescence, when we are stilldiscovering our sense of self. The family must always be supportive and encouragingfor the child to gain a positive self-concept. George Herbert Mead was a psychologist whodeveloped a theory of Social Behaviourism. Similar to Cooley, Mead believedthat we develop self-images through interactions with other people. However,Mead believed that children learn through taking on the role of another person.In play, children imitate others.
By doing so, Mead believed that they learnwhat is expected of them from this person. Younger children take on the role ofthose closest to them (e.g. parents and siblings) whereas older children willtake on the role of others in society. This process involves 3 stages,according to Mead; the imitation stage, the play stage and the game stage. Inthe imitation stage, young children imitate the behaviour of those around them,without truly understanding the purpose of this behaviour. By the age of 3,children are now in the play stage. This is where the child begins to take therole of someone else.
This may be a family member or their favourite superhero.The final stage is the game stage, where children start to play team sports andgames. Players take on a variety of roles and learn what is expected of eachrole in society.
Another aspect of Mead’s theory was that the self was composedof the “I” and the “Me”. Both are parts of the individual’s self-concept andthe self is a dialogue between the two. The “I” is the spontaneous, creativepart of the self while the “Me” gradually develops through interactions withothers.
The “Me” monitors the “I”. The development of both the “Me” and the “I”is important for both the individual and society itself. Society needsspontaneity and creativity, but within limits. Austrian neurologist, Sigmund Freud, developedthe psychoanalytic theory of socialization. While Cooley and Mead focused onthe influence of interactions on the development of the self, Freud placedemphasis on how biology and the human mind shape our personality.
Freudbelieved that the unconscious mind shapes human behaviour. He proposed that thehuman mind consists of three parts; the id, the ego and the superego. The id isthe instinctive component of the mind and is responsible for the satisfactionof physical desires. If one was ruled only by their id, they would be followingtheir own personal desires and they would be breaking societal norms. Thesuperego can be defined as our ‘conscience’. This is the part of our psychethat operates on moral reasoning. If one was ruled by the superego, they wouldessentially be inhibited to live a normal life because of theirself-consciousness.
The ego is the mediator of the id and the superego – itbalances the desires of both parts of the psyche. To conclude, there are several agents ofsocialization. However, family, as a primary agent of socialization, is onethat I believe to play a significant role in the developing child. Not onlydoes family provide the bare necessities for the survival of the child, but italso provides the child with the information that is necessary to function insociety. Our sense of self emerges from our interactions with those around usand based on my research and analysis of the many theories of socialization, Iam of the opinion that family has the greatest influence on developing thisself-identity in the child.