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The socialization that we receive in childhood has a lasting effect on our ability to interact with others in society. In this lesson, we identify and discuss four of the most influential agents of socialization in childhood: family, school, peers, and media.

Socialization

How do we learn to interact with other people? Socialization is a lifelong process during which we learn about social expectations and how to interact with other people. Nearly all of the behavior that we consider to be ‘human nature’ is actually learned through socialization.

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And, it is during socialization that we learn how to walk, talk, and feed ourselves, about behavioral norms that help us fit in to our society, and so much more.Socialization occurs throughout our life, but some of the most important socialization occurs in childhood. So, let’s talk about the most influential agents of socialization. These are the people or groups responsible for our socialization during childhood – including family, school, peers, and mass media.

Family

There is no better way to start than to talk about the role of family in our social development, as family is usually considered to be the most important agent of socialization. As infants, we are completely dependent on others to survive.

Our parents, or those who play the parent role, are responsible for teaching us to function and care for ourselves. They, along with the rest of our family, also teach us about close relationships, group life, and how to share resources. Additionally, they provide us with our first system of values, norms, and beliefs – a system that is usually a reflection of their own social status, religion, ethnic group, and more.

A bilingual immigrant family may teach very different values than a traditional American family.
Bilingual Family

For example, Alexander, a young boy who lives in America, was born to an immigrant family. He grew up bilingual and was taught the importance of collectivistic values through socialization with his family.

This experience differs drastically from someone born to an older, ‘traditional’ American family that would emphasize the English language and individualistic values.

Schools

The next important agent of childhood socialization is the school. Of course, the official purpose of school is to transfer subject knowledge and teach life skills, such as following directions and meeting deadlines. But, students don’t just learn from the academic curriculum prepared by teachers and school administrators. In school, we also learn social skills through our interactions with teachers, staff, and other students.

For example, we learn the importance of obeying authority and that to be successful, we must learn to be quiet, to wait, and sometimes to act interested even when we’re not.Alexander, like other children, might even learn things from his teacher that she did not intend to teach. For instance, he might learn that it’s best to yell out an answer instead of raising his hand. When he does so, he gets rare attention from the teacher and is hardly ever punished.

Peers

Peer groups allow children to form relationships and learn without the direction of adults.

Peer Group

Another agent of socialization that relates to school is our peer group. Unlike the agents we’ve already discussed – family and school – peer groups give us an opportunity as children to form relationships with others on our own terms, plus learn things without the direction of an adult. Our peers have an incredible amount of influence on us when we’re young, so it’s understandable that parents worry about the type of friends we choose. Often, we discuss topics and learn behavioral norms from our peers that our parents do not or would not approve of.However, our peers also give us a chance to develop many of the social skills we need as adults. For instance, Alexander will certainly experience moments when his friends’ behavior and/or values contradict the norms and values he obtained from his family.

He has to learn to decide which norms and values to keep, reject, or use and follow in certain situations.

Mass Media

The last agent of childhood socialization we’re going to discuss in this lesson is mass media, which includes television, Internet, radio, movies, books, and magazines – just to name a few. This is another agent that our parents are understandably concerned about. As with our peers, we often learn things through mass media that our parents would probably rather we didn’t. Especially today, children are exposed to a wide variety of content, including violence and sex, which many deem inappropriate.

Mass media also seems to reinforce gender and other stereotypes.For example, Alexander loves to watch cartoons, but they perpetuate the idea that men are more important than women. Women are usually portrayed as supporting characters – mothers, girlfriends, or damsels in distress.

As a result, Alexander is continually provided with evidence that women are not as brave and intelligent as men.

Lesson Summary

Socialization occurs throughout our life, but some of the most important socialization occurs in childhood. Four of the most influential agents of socialization during that phase of our lives are the family, school, peers, and mass media.

Family is usually considered to be the most important agent of socialization. They not only teach us how to care for ourselves, but also give us our first system of values, norms, and beliefs.Schools are agents of socialization that not only teach us subject knowledge and life skills but also social skills through our interactions with teachers, staff, and other students.Another agent of socialization that relates to school is our peer group.

Unlike family and school, peer groups give us an opportunity as children to form relationships with others on our own terms, plus learn things without the direction of an adult. Our peers give us a chance to develop many of the social skills we need later in life.The last agent we discussed was mass media, which includes television, Internet, books, and more. As with our peers, we often learn things through mass media that our parents would probably rather we didn’t, such as violence, sex, and the reinforcement of gender and other stereotypes.

Learning Outcome

You’ll be able to describe the influence that family, school, peers, and mass media have on human socialization after watching this video lesson.

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