The most influential agent of socialization for children?
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Socialisation is the scientific study of human behaviour and activities. It is concerned with how human beings think and act as social creatures. Socialisation is the process through which we become human. It is through our interaction with society that we learn what is necessary to live in each society.
There are four main agents of socialisation: family, school, peers, and mass media. Among these agents some sociologists believe that family is the most important to the child’s development. Why? Some sociologists believe family is the most important to the child’s development, because within the family we learn self-concept, we also learn the basics of who we are. Family is the best arrangement for bringing up children to be mature.
Family is the oldest institution on earth, and it plays a vital role in human society. Most families consist of a father, a mother, and children. Grandparents may live in their own households as long as they can. While contact is kept up with more distant relatives, responsibilities toward these are limited. Parents are considered role models within the family and therefore have a great bearing on our gender role. Some sociologists believe that children are socialised into their gender roles and hence in their gender identities by the family in a lot of ways. The first of these ways is Manipulation.
This consists of parents (or other family members) encouraging behaviour that is seen as the norm for the child’s gender and discouraging behaviour that is not considered the norm e.g. congratulating a boy for completing an obstacle course but discouraging a girl from attempting the obstacle course. Another method described by some sociologists is Canalisation. This comprises of parents channelling the child’s interests into activities that are considered the norm for their gender e.g. encouraging girls to do ballet and encouraging boys to play football. These methods identified by sociologists describe how the family can be considered the most important influence on gender identity as it shows that children can be socialised into their gender identity by the family from a young age.
You could refer to the ‘Feral Children’ as another good example of the importance of primary socialisation. In 1918 two infant girls were lost in a jungle in India. Feral, or wild children are those who, for whatever reason, are not brought up by humans. Theses children where brought up by a pack of wolves. There girls where aged between 5-7 years old. When the girls where found they where like animals, they where naked and ran in a sort of stooped crouch, like our prehistoric ancestors. The girls where afraid of humans, they couldn’t talk, laugh, or sing. They ate by pushing their faces into a bowl, and lapped up water instead of using a glass. This could be given as proof that without a family, children cannot begin to conform to society, cannot begin to understand their gender role nor recognise any norm or value of a human being as we would recognise them today.
However, it can be argued the family is not the most influential agent of socialisation. Other agents such as peer groups, schools and mass media also have a big influence on children and therefore it can be argued that if a child is subject to ‘inadequate’ parenting, then these other agents can sometimes go a long way to compensating for this.
The majority of blame for the recent rise in youth crime is placed on single parent families. Some people believe the lack of balance in single parent households has led to children becoming less respectful and more likely to commit crime. Even though this theory has been widely discredited, the media still portray single parent households as the major factor in the rise of youth crime. One organisation in particular has revealed a number of scathing attacks on single parent households: ‘New Right’. ‘New Right’ argues that (never married) lone mothers who are reliant upon the government for financial aid bear a strong responsibility for helping to undermine the values of society. In particular, they argue that children are harmed because there is no father to provide financial support and to help socialise the child into the normal values of society. (Source: www.le.ac.uk/education/resources/.html)
Families can differ in terms of what they perceive as acceptable or unacceptable behaviour. For example an upper-class family may believe it is unacceptable for their children to be out on the streets playing because the parents are of old fashioned mind sets and follow the guidelines that their own parents set them. Whereas a lower-class family may think this is acceptable for their children, even if they are also of old fashioned mindsets and following the guidelines set by their own parents, often these parental guidelines are different and therefore different things are both acceptable and unacceptable in different families.
A point that you could argue against that gender roles are set by the family is that not all parents conform to traditional gender socialisation themselves. And therefore it could be believed that children make their own decisions for their gender role or even that your gender role may be decided from before birth.
Another point of view on children and socialisation is that of a social actionist. Social actionists take the view that family socialisation is not only the most important agent but often the ONLY form of socialisation a child needs to fit into today’s society. They believe in home schooling and that children should stay at home and have as much contact with their parents as possible.
It is apparent from the above discussions that single parent families are blamed for the rise in youth crime and that families differ on what is deemed acceptable and unacceptable in today’s society. It could also be said that eventually children make their own decisions and that a small part of their future life is decided before they are born.
In conclusion I agree with some sociologists that family is the most important agent of socialisation but also agree that the other agents of socialisation such as peer groups, schools and mass media are important and that children wouldn’t fit in today’s society without them.