To ask any person what family means in contemporary society is to take a glimpse into the multitude of terms describing family forms, that is; “household, couple family, nuclear family, extended family, single-parent family, blended families and stepfamilies” (Germov & Poole, 2007). Therefore regardless of how a family is structured an integral component that each one of these families has is the role they play in the socialisation process.
That is, every person’s life from the time they are born till the time they pass will be encompassed with acquiring what is their cultural “norms, values, beliefs, attitudes and language” (Gecas, 2001, p. 2855). In doing so the individuals self and personality will be formed and moulded. For the purpose of this essay I will concentrate on the significance of family in the socialisation process and three facets for which family is central, they are: behaviour, development and gender roles.
Predominately, the three aspects will focus on the primary socialisation that focuses on the progression of one’s development. It will examine the nuclear family diversity within family socialisation and describe how different family types socialise. Finally it will briefly discuss the change in family roles within contemporary society. Socialisation is a continual process of cultural diffusion that recognises social identities, roles and personal behaviours that an individual will learn so to become a member of society (Scott, 2006).
Every individual begins the process of socialisation within the early years of personhood within the context of their family. Our parents, siblings, grandparents and extended immediate family are our primary agents, who develop our knowledge and skills through a variety of actions (Scott, 2006). Therefore the family in the socialisation process is the most influential and essential for a child’s development. A newly born baby is not a very social being; it is the parents’ role to train the baby and to help make it properly social (Plummer, 2010).
As parents respond to their baby’s physical needs, they are starting to implement what the baby should expect from their surroundings and the way they should communicate their needs. A child’s earliest interaction with society is through the relationships it develops with its family members. These relationships during a baby’s development play a key role in their future social adjustments (Strickland, 2001). In relation, families who provide dependable and responsive care, aid the child to develop personal evelopment that can be considered typical to what society views as normal. In doing so the child will be able to develop relationships with others that are beneficial and nourishing (Plummer, 2010). An example of children who do not receive this type of care would be to refer to the studies that have been complied regarding feral children. It has been suggested by Plummer (2010) that children who have been “left to live in isolation and then discovered, later show that they simply cannot function as social beings” (p. 20).
Similarly a family who during the child’s developmental years pass on what they think and understand to be principle behaviours, attitudes, skills and values can be suggested to be exercising the social learning theory researched by Jean Piaget (1896-1980). According to social learning theory, behaviours and attitudes develop in response to reinforcement and encouragement from those around us… the identity people acquire is based more on the behaviours and attitudes of people around them than the interior landscape of the individual (Anderson & Taylor, 2006, p. 4). For example, household rules govern behaviour, generosity and caring are socially respected merits that are taught within the home and culture, and interpersonal behaviour function as models for interactions with outside people (Strickland, 2001). Hence, during the primary socialisation it is not only the matter to understand what are the patterns of behaviour, the rules or the norms, “it is a matter of learning to the extent to which they become part of the way people think” (Gecas, 2001, p. 2856).
In addition, support and control from families are the most powerful models of influence in the socialisation process. Children who are continually supported by their family through the progression of significant life stages are found to present encouraging “cognitive development, moral behaviour, positive self esteem, academic achievement and social competence” (Rollins & Thomas, 1979, p. 41). Conversely, where there is a lack of family support children may display negative outcomes. Rollins and Thomas (1979) suggest “low self esteem, delinquency, deviance, drug use, and various other problem behaviours” (p. 2). Also, parental control is just as important as support in the socialisation process. Just like support, the level of control families exercise forms of punishment, discipline, supervision, strictness and monitoring can lead to positive or negative developmental and behavioural outcomes for the child. A significant behaviour that is discovered in the family context is what it means to be a boy or girl. This process takes place when the families we exist in “condition our behaviours by treating boys and girls in accordance with social expectations” (Holmes, 200, p. 3). Children “quickly learn how men and women are expected to behave, even if those close to them do not always behave according to those expectations” (Holmes, 2007, p. 43). The socialisation experience of girls across cultures is geared towards motherhood and males will be workers (Hoffman, 1977). The main point here is these similarities across cultures and over time have led many to believe that gender roles “must be biologically based and unchangeable” (Hoffman, 1977, p. 644) to reflect the expectations of society.
It tends to be the case in contemporary society that an array of different family types exist. No more are children being born into married mother and father couples, they are also being reared to unwed heterosexual couples, divorced couples, unattached heterosexual men and women, and to adults who have used IVF techniques, to which they may or may not be related too. This is only a selection of a small number of family types that now occupy society and as a result the way in which these families come to socialise will differ.
To identify why these differences exist would be to observe not only the family type but factors that are confounded within the family type (Grusec & Hastings, 2007). In other words, according to Grusec and Hastings (2007) the functioning of an individual is influenced by the relationship within the family. Therefore, if there were an absence of the mother or father in the home, such as single-parent habitat, it would bestow a different family socialisation context.
Also, children and parents who live in different family structures may have the right to use distinctive economic, community and social resources, and as a result this may offer greater experiences of cultural surroundings in a variety of ways. For example, parents with “low incomes and less access to resources show poorer socialisation practices and less authoritative parenting styles, compared to more financially well off parents” (Grusec & Hastings, 2007, p. 329).
Children who live in homes that require constant residential moving, for example parents who are divorced will experience problems in adjusting compared to children whose families provide stable environments (Grusec & Hastings, 2007). Consequently, for the majority of human beings who will experience society through the observations of our initial family practices, we will all grow up thinking that ‘our’ family is normal. It is not until we begin to realise that ‘our’ family is a part of the many varieties of family types mentioned above, that the diversity of family is introduced.
Even until today the nuclear family continues to create a dominant principle in much of the Western world, and Rapoport and Rapoport (1982) have described family diversity by contributing to the idealised conception that the nuclear family is disappearing. As Poole (2005, as citied in Bittman & Pixley, 1997) has pointed out examining household types at one juncture obscures transitions such as children leaving home, thus creating single-person or couple households; having children; separating and divorcing; ageing and moving to live with married children or to supported accommodation; and then dying.
Throughout this period, nuclear family households are created and broken up and then recreated – sometimes several times (p. 67). Factors that are also contributing to the demise of the nuclear family are “increased longevity, declining fertility, rising divorce rates and increase in the proportion of people who will never marry” (Poole, 2005, p. 67-68). Hence, it is no longer infrequent or rare to come across children who will appear from an assorted mixture of parents and families. Likewise it is not uncommon in contemporary society that the role of the women has changed.
It is no longer the actuality that women will spend much of their lives pregnant, nursing or caring for children. This change has resulted primarily from three converging factors, “smaller family size, longer life expectancy and higher employment rates for women throughout their life cycle” (Hoffman, 1977, p. 644). The socialisation process across cultures for girls is geared toward motherhood; therefore if motherhood is no longer the major role of women in society, then the socialisation process can be expected to change (Hoffman, 1977).
However, in spite of all these changes the responsibility for women to have children is still her role. Furthermore the role of the female in the family has evolved with the contemporary woman who is choosing to have an increased control over their fertility and as result they are marrying later in life, having children later, and having fewer children. In addition, the increased acceptance and expectation in society that women work is also bearing waves on the reduction of babies being conceived, so too is the proportion of women pursuing higher education qualifications.
Overall, whether or not the birth rate remains low is difficult to predict, but there is clearly an increase in the number of couples who expect to have only two children (Hoffman, 1977), so where does this leave the generation continuance in the socialisation process? In conclusion every human being when they enter the world of life will be thrust into the process of socialisation for which their families bear the greatest responsibility. They will become a distinct mark in the culture they preside too and the self will evolve through the wondrous capabilities of learning, identifying, and developing who they are as an individual.
There are many aspects for which the family is fundamental during the socialisation process and we can appreciate that in respect to the assortment of different family types there will be altered approaches to how families socialise, much diversity and ongoing change. As the individual evolves during the many stages of their life, they too will become the family member who takes the role in the socialisation process and it will now be their responsibility to ensure that the culture they belong to continues on. References Gecas, V. (2001).
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