Socialization is a lifelong learning process essential for our development as human beings. Through socialization we acquire a sense of self as well as emotions. Socialization is an essential factor in shaping our behavior. Without socialization, people wouldn’t be able to learn the language, symbols, values, and norms of the society their live in. They also wouldn’t be able to find their place in society. Significant individuals and groups that have an impact on a person’s socialization are referred to as agents of socialization. As life changes and individuals go through the various stages of life, their agents of socialization change as well. For example, the biggest influence on an infant’s life is their parents or guardians. Almost everything an infant learns is learned from them. This changes during childhood as peer groups and schools start influencing the individual’s perception of themselves and others. As we enter adulthood, co-workers or members of other groups to which we belong (church, special interest groups, etc.) replace peers. Agents of socialization prepare us to take our place in society.
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Family is a very important, if not the most important, agent of socialization. The first few years of a child’s life, that child totally depends on his/her family for emotional and physical support. The child learns from the environment that its family creates. During this time, parents also convey their political and social views to their child.
For example, my family consisted of my parents, my brother, my maternal grandmother and one of my aunts. While I had a much larger family, those are the people that had the most influence on my life because we all lived in the same house. Through their input, I learned, among other things, about acceptable and unacceptable behaviors. Specifically, my parents were very concerned with punctuality. They passed those values on to me by example as well as by verbally stressing the need for punctuality. In fact, their values are so ingrained that to this day I feel very uncomfortable when I am late. I tend to get to school half an hour before school starts, because of the fear of being late. Another example would be my parent’s views on illness and doctors.
Being ill or seeking the help of a doctor was viewed as a weakness. Headaches and stomachaches were ignored and medications were only taken when absolutely necessary. All through my teenage years I only visited doctors when it was critical. To me this behavior was normal. I never even thought about annual checkups or preventive examinations. In fact, I thought it strange when people would go to the doctor for any illness that wasn’t life threatening. This changed after I moved to the United States where friends and family stressed the importance of annual medical exams.
After a child enters school, the schools and peer groups become important agents of socialization. Schools teach children about skills and values of the society in which they live. Additionally, schools diversify a child’s social circle. Peer groups consist of people that are within a year or two of each other in age. Members of a peer groups that socialize regularly may also share other characteristics, for example they may all visit the same school, or are members of the same club, or they live in the same neighborhood. Peer groups function without adult supervision and children are more able to talk freely with their peers. Peer groups increase in importance as children begin to break away from their parents and adopt the values, goals, likes and dislikes of their peers.
While I didn’t spend time with many other children, my peer group was essential in shaping my personality. The members of my peer group that I socialized with regularly consisted of 3 or 4 children of the same age that lived within the same neighborhood. More specifically, we all lived within the same block. Most of my peers were raised in families that were less rigid and more liberal than mine. In fact the whole neighborhood was mostly composed of doctors, teachers, and other well-educated families, whereas my family is composed of blue-collar workers. While racism and prejudice were common in my family, my friends where raised by their families to be more open minded and appreciated diversity. Their views clashed with what I learned at home, however, I identified more with my peers views and made them my own. In fact, I felt more connected to my peers and their families than I did with my own family. My peer as well as the neighborhood I grew up in where essential agents of my socialization.
For adults, the workplace tends to be an important agent of socialization. There they learn skills and a new perspective on the world. Work also becomes part of an individual’s self-concept.
When I first started working in the US, I was employed in retail. I chose this job in parts because of the socialization factor. I wanted to learn more about how Americans interact, and working in a retail environment seemed like a good place to do that. Working in a retail environment exposed me to a large group of people in a fairly short time. By watching my co-workers and through their input, I quickly learned to take on behaviors that are common in the US. Most importantly, my speech changed from the British English that I learned in school in Germany to more Americanized speech pattern. I constantly compared my own behavior, dress, and speech to that of my co-workers and adjusted mine to more closely resemble theirs. My co-workers and boss at the store had a very big impact on the way I saw myself. Their positive feedback made me feel less like a foreigner and more like a part of American society.
The Media is also a major agent of socialization. Children are socialized through the shows they watch. When playing, children often take on the role of their favorite TV characters. Children also receive messages about gender and a society’s ideal of a gender’s behavior though the media.
I believe the Internet is a very important tool today. Therefore, its role as an agent of socialization should not be underestimated. The Internet provides many ways to connect with other people, for example, through chat rooms, emails lists and message boards. Email lists as well as chat rooms are virtual mediums that allow individuals to connect with others with whom they have something in common. Personally, I am a member of many email lists. When I first went online I started an email list specific to people interested in tent camping. This list has grown to the largest tent camping list on Yahoo, a major Internet services provider. The members communicate on a daily basis via email and learn from each other. Sometimes they share where to purchase essential items needed, other times they talk about appropriate outdoor/camping behavior. Those new to tent camping learn about everything they need, before heading out for their first camping trip. The same is true for other mailing lists that I am a part of. After moving to Delaware, I needed to find a way to get used to life in this state and felt the need to connect to people, especially other lesbians, in this area.
Therefore, my partner and I started a mailing list with the intent of meeting other women living in lower Delaware via the Internet and in person. This list has become a vital part in my resocialization. Through email exchanges as well as face-to-face meetings I have learned more about life in this area. Specifically, I was told about places to eat at, stores to shop in, and places to visit. Connecting to people in my new place if living was vital in order for me to feel like part of society in this area. The Internet and email also allows me to socialize with other people with whom I share a special bond or special interest. For example I can stay in touch with my family (now consisting of my father and my brother) in Germany; I frequently email old high school teachers in Berlin, Germany; and I write articles for and socialize with other women all over the world in the form of an internet message board and website. The Internet also enables people who cannot leave their home for various reasons to stay in touch with the outside world.
In short, agents of socialization are an integral part of life. Each agent has its own influence in socializing us into fully functional members of society.