Socialization in Families Research Paper Starter

Socialization in Families

Socialization can be defined as the type of social learning which occurs when a person interacts with other individuals. While some believe that this process is limited to the childhood years, others argue that socialization is a continuous process that stretches over a person's lifetime. Families can have a strong influence on children's socialization and their influence may even extend into the lives of their adult children. Groups socialization theory gives insight into how socialization occurs, and studies of children of divorced parents and African American adolescents demonstrate how strong a family's influence can be upon children.



Socialization > Socialization in Families


Socialization can be defined as the type of social learning that occurs when a person interacts with other individuals. While some believe that this process is limited to the childhood years, others argue that socialization is a continuous process that stretches over a person's lifetime.

Psychologists, sociologists, and other researchers have studied socialization and social development since the early twentieth century. As a result of their work, practitioners have been able to use the information to guide people through the socialization process. It has been found that social learning theory has been especially helpful in understanding socialization and the most appropriate ways to guide a person through the process.

Group Socialization Theory

Theorists such as Turner (1987), Tesser (1988), and Brewer (1991) have all shown how social-cognitive approaches can illuminate otherwise inexplicable aspects of human group behavior. One of these aspects is how people can "belong simultaneously to many groups and can shift their allegiance from one to the other, without moving an inch, in response to changes in relative salience" (Harris, 1995, p. 465). Because of this ability, a person can identify with a group even if the group is never all present in one location, or the person never meets all or any of the group members.

Judith Harris' group socialization theory, which is based on the four fundamental predispositions that humans and primates hold in common, is used to explain these unique human behaviors (1995). The four predispositions, which can be correlated with the basic types of behavior, are:

* Group Affiliation: by identifying themselves as part of a group, group members tend to favor each other above non-group and out-group members.

* Fear: group members exhibit apprehension about or aggression toward strangers. If group members demonstrate strong in-group favoritism, this predisposition may manifest itself as out-group hostility.

* Within-Group Jockeying for Status: group members attempt to raise their prestige within the group in order to gain greater power over group resources.

* Seeking Close Dyadic Relationships: group members attempt to develop loving relationships with other group members (Harris, 1995).

Harris (1995) was able to summarize many of the basic assumptions surrounding the study of group socialization theory:

Table 1: The Assumptions of Group Socialization Theory

Component Assumptions Context-specific socialization and personality development * Children learn separately how to behave at home and how to behave outside the home. * Personality consists of an innate core plus acquired, context-specific behavioral systems. * As children get older, the outside-the-home behavioral system takes precedence over the inside-the-home system and eventually becomes part of the adult personality. Source of outside-the-home socialization * Primates are predisposed, for evolutionary reasons, to affiliate with and adapt to a group. * Humans have the ability to identify with more than one group; the group identification that is salient at any given moment depends on social context. * The group that children identify with when they are outside the home is the peer group-a group of others who share socially relevant characteristics such as age, gender, ethnicity, and (in adolescence) abilities and interests. * Identification with a group entails taking on the group's attitudes and norms of behavior. This is a within-group process that results in assimilation-the group members become more alike. Transmission of culture via group processes * Parents do not transmit their culture directly to their children. Culture is transmitted from the parents' peer group (and from other cultural sources) to the children's peer group. * Children transfer behavior learned at home to the peer group only if it is a shared by, and approved by, the majority of members of the peer group. Children who come from atypical homes do not transfer they atypical home behaviors to the peer group. * Children's peer groups create their own culture by selecting and rejecting various aspects of the adult culture and by making cultural innovations of their own. During childhood, children move through a series of these child-created cultures. Between-group processes that widen differences between groups * In-group favoritism and out-group hostility derive from adaptive mechanisms acquired through evolution and found in humans and other primates. * In humans, in-group favoritism and out-group hostility produce group contrasts effects, which widen differences between groups or create differences if there were none to begin with. Within-group processes that widen differences among individuals * Status hierarchies within the group-differences in dominance or social power-exist in all primate groups. Differences in status tend to persist and, in humans, may have lasting effects on personality. * Social comparisons within the peer group give children information about their own strengths and weaknesses and result in typecasting of individuals by other members of the group. Assimilation and differentiation * Within-group assimilation and between-group contrast are most likely to occur when group identity is salient. Group identity is most salient when other groups are present. * Within-group assimilation and within-group differentiation are not mutually exclusive. Children can become more similar to their peers in some ways (socialization) and, over the same period of time, less similar in other ways."

(From Harris, 1995, p. 467)

In urban societies, school-age children spend most of their time outside of their homes among other children of the same age and sex. These groups usually do not include siblings (Harris, 1995). Therefore, one could question whether or not the family should be considered a part of the child's group. The answer is dependent on who is asking the question.

In many Asian cultures, the family group is seen as important, and the family relationship is valued above individual's autonomy or independence. For instance, hundreds of years ago, if a Chinese man was found guilty of committing a serious crime, both he and his family were punished. In essence, the entire family would have to pay the price for a family member's crime (Heckathorn, 1992, as cited in Harris, 1995).

On the other hand, Western culture tends value the individual over the group (Miller, 1987, as cited in Harris, 1995). According to Harris (1992), this tendency extends into the family, too. "When they are at home together, I believe that they function as individuals, each with her own agenda, his own patch of turf to defend," Harris writes (1995, p. 474). If Harris is correct, then the family may not be recognized as a group in Western culture.

Regardless of one's point of view on the family's socialization influence, one could argue that the manner in which a child behaves and adjusts to his or her family can predict how well that child will function in the world as an adult.



Most of research conducted on family socialization highlights the process through which parents hand down their values to their children. However, this research tends to assume that most individuals have lived in two different types of family environments during the course of their lives: the family of origin and the family into which they marry. It has been suggested that a person learns behavior from the family of origin and that he or she later transmits these behaviors into the marital family. Unfortunately, the results of these various research projects have tended to not take into consideration the effects of divorce and remarriage on the family socialization process.

However, other research has compared the children of divorced parents to the children of parents who remained together. It has been found that the children of divorced...

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