Socialization in Peer Groups
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. 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 is based on the viewpoints of theorists such as Turner, Tesser, and Brewer. Their theories are founded on four predispositions that humans share with other primates. The manner in which a child reacts to a situation or person tends to be different based on his or her environment. How one behaves at home in the presence of parents and family members tends to be different from how one behaves outside of the home among peers.
ACADEMIC TOPIC OVERVIEWS
Socialization > Socialization in Peer Groups
Harris (1995) defines socialization as "the process by which an infant becomes an acceptable member of his or her society--one who behaves appropriately, knows the language, possesses the requisite skills, and holds the prevailing beliefs and attitudes" (p. 461). 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. People have the capability to continue to learn from every social experience that they encounter, they say.
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 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.
Children begin to form peer groups roughly around the age of three, usually with other children who are neighbors, classmates, or siblings. In these groups, children learn how to interact with other children of their own age, as well as how to engage in more complex group behaviors, such as leadership, cooperation, and compromise. Peer groups become critical during adolescence as teenagers break away from their families. Within these groups, teenagers learn how to engage in group behavior without adult supervision and may explore their sexuality. As teenagers age into adults, however, the influence of peer groups will often give way to the demands of work, school, or family.
The key factor to understanding a child's behavior is to observe the context in which the child socializes. The manner in which a child reacts to a situation or person tends to be different based on his or her environment. Like adults, children's behavior at home in the presence of parents and family members can be very different from their behavior outside of the home among peers. According to Ironstrack, Klee, McKay, and Minera (2005), children's peers can play as large a role as their families in their socialization. They claim that "from an evolutionary standpoint, it makes more sense for children to learn from more people than just their parents because they can learn about innovations that came from people other than their parents" (Ironstrack, Klee, McKay & Minera, 2005, p. 1).
"The first step in human group affiliation is the categorization of people into groups" (Harris, 1995, p. 466). Experts disagree on when humans develop the ability to categorize: Jean Piaget claimed that children developed this ability by the time they were toddlers, but subsequent research indicates that infants can categorize people, too (Harris, 1995). Regardless of age, though, most people categorize others according to age, sex, and race (Harris, 1995). Young children are the exception, as most do not begin to make racial distinctions until they reach preschool age (Harris, 1995). Infants, however, are believed to recognize differences in age and gender by the time they are a year old (Harris, 1995). Interestingly, infants also demonstrate a preference for other infants and, by the time they are two years old, begin to prefer children of their own sex (Harris, 1995). These predilections in a large part determine how children form their peer groups: they are more likely to associate with children of similar of ages, sexes, and races than children who are dissimilar.
Corsaro (1993) defines childhood socialization as the "production of and movement through a series of peer cultures" (p. 361). According to Corsano (1993), all childhood peer groups create their own culture. And, as Harris notes, "though this series of cultures is capable of adapting to changing times, it is also capable of remaining relatively unchanged while cohort after cohort of children passes through it" (Harris, 1995, p. 470). Through these series of unique childhood peer cultures, children pass down group norms to younger children as they age and move into older peer groups. For example, a group of eight- and nine-year-olds may teach a six-year-old to play hide and seek or speak Pig Latin, even as they are growing older and learning from other, older children how to play basketball or a complicated card game. In this way, groups' norms are passed down from generation to generation.
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 which 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:
(The entire section is 2828 words.)