Socialization may be broadly defined as the inculcation of the skills and attitudes necessary for playing given social roles. In this light, it has unquestionable theoretical relevance for social anthropology. Roles and role systems are central to the anthropological field of study however one chooses to approach it and they can scarcely be conceived of as existing or functioning without some provision for socialization.
Socialization is more than the training of children and the immature. There are cultures where it is normal for a person to remain marginal to all the major social systems up to the age of thirty or forty. But even where that is not the case, certain roles are normally recruited from among people who are grown up already. Further, social mobility and or major social changes, such as ongoing urbanization or industrialization, involve the resocialization of people of all ages. By and large, then, it is rare for individuals not to have to confront actual or potential new roles in adult life, which would require from them the acquisition of new role-playing skills and attitude.
Today many parts of the world are undergoing a socialization crisis, owing to the scope and momentum of social change. In developing countries more and more children go to school, in developed countries formal education takes longer and longer, but there is much painful uncertainty about the roles for which the young are being or ought to be prepared, and about how the task should be divided between family, school and peer groups. Resocialization of adults appears equally problematic. In regard to the study of developing countries especially, socialization would seem as much a key theme today as political structure was in the past generation for the study of countries then under colonial rule.
A dominant point of view in the 20th century was that socialization is a process of instilling in a child a set of desired behavioral habits. Parents and other adults serve as teachers, the children as learners. Young children need to learn table manners, how to dress themselves, habits of personal hygiene, proper ways to speak to older people, and myriad, other things – things that increase in complexity as children grow older. From the “socialization as habit building” point of view, a well-socialized child is one who has accumulated a large store of the habits needed for acceptable social behavior and acceptable levels of skills, while not having acquired bad habits. By making progress with the acquisition of good habits, the child is presumably enabled to become more and more self-reliant.
An important research program emerging during the 1970s from the behavioral perspective of parenting is the one organized and led by Gerald Patterson at the Oregon Social Learning Centre. This program continues actively to the present time. Patterson and colleagues focused on the families of aggressive children, comparing the interactive sequences between parent and child that occurred in these families to those in the families of non-aggressive children. They noted that parents could inadvertently build children’s aggression by backing away from their control efforts when the child was aggressively defiant. They stressed that parents needed to provide consequences for desired or undesired child behavior and noted that in order to do so, parents needed to be vigilant in detecting infractions and keeping track of whether children have complied with parental directives. Thus parental monitoring was a crucial element in parental management of children – a variable that has since been adopted by many other researchers studying parent-child interaction.
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