Socialization is a continual process of learning. Each time we encounter new experiences, we are challenged to make new interpretations of who we are and where we fit into society. This challenge is most evident when we make major role transitions. Learning takes place in many contexts. We learn at home, in school and church, on the job, from our friends, and from mass media. These agents of socialization have a profound effect on the development of personality, self-concept, and the social roles we assume.
Of all the agents of socialization, the family is arguably the most important. Although the form of the family differs from place to place in all societies it bears the main responsibility for socializing the child from birth through independent adulthood. Within the family the child first develops physical skills, such as walking, and the intellectual skills of speech, math, and writing. The family is also important because it gives the child social location within society. A child born to an upper class family will be socialized into wealth, power, and social acceptance, while a child born to an impoverished family will learn about day-to-day survival, low pay , and social rejection.
The school is the agent of socialization responsible for teaching formal cognitive skills, such as reading, writing, math, and history. The school is usually the child’s first introduction to a formal agent of socialization. Whereas the family regards the child as a unique individual, the school regards the child as a student who is expected to meet objective standards, abide by standard rules, and behave like everyone else. The schools are training ground for roles in the workplace, the military, and other bureaucracies in which relationships are based on uniform criteria.
Sociologists have found that the peer group, which consists of friends who are approximately the same age and have the same social status, is very influential in shaping the child’s behavior and values. Because children spend so much time with their peers, the peer group provides a great deal of informal socialization. The influence of the peer group increases with age , peaking during adolescence . Teenagers are in the process of forging their own identities and participating in a distinctive, youth oriented culture that helps them to gain independence from their parents and other adults.
Mass media refers to communications that are disseminated to large audience without direct feedback or other interpersonal contacts between the senders and the receivers. While films, radio, newspapers, and books are part of the media, television is the dominant medium. Because the media are so pervasive, many observers worry that both children and adults will be socialized into a world that does not exist. The amount of violence shown on television causes further concern. By the time children reach adolescence they will have witnessed thousands of fictional murders, rapes, armed robberies and assaults. Current research has tended to support the contention that TV violence contributes to aggressive behavior by children.
Although the mass media are easily criticized, pinpointing their impact on behavior is not easy. We do not simply absorb everything we see or hear. Instead we choose the medium and the message to suit own purposes and seek out programs that resonate with our experience.
In every society, religion is an important source of individual direction. The values and moral principles in religious doctrine give guidance about appropriate roles and behaviors.
Almost all of us will spend a significant portion of our adult life working outside the home for wages or salaries. The environments, in which we work, however are very different. Some of us will work with machines, others with ideas; some will work with people, others on people, much of it is impersonal, monotonous, and regulated by time clocks; but some is highly personal, challenging and flexible.