Also when discussing the average US child, it’s safe to say that the most important socialization takes place early in life and in identifiable levels. Primary socialization typically begins at birth and moves forward until the beginning of the school years. Primary Socialization includes all the ways the newborn is molded into a social being capable of interacting in and meeting the expectations of society. Most primary socialization is facilitated by the family, friends, day care, and to a certain degree various forms of media. Children watch about 3 hours of TV per day (by the time the average child attends kindergarten she has watched about 5,000 hours of TV). They also play video games, surf the Internet, play with friends, and read.
Children learn how to talk, interact with others, share, manage frustrations, follow the “rules”, and grow up to be like older family and friends they know. When they live up to expectations they are “big boys and girls,” when they don’t they are naughty. In the early years, tremendous attention is required in the safety and nurturance of infants. As they begin to walk and talk they learn to communicate their needs and wants and to feed and clothe themselves. Younger children do not have strong abstract reasoning skills until adolescence, so they rely heavily on the judgment of their caregivers. Most importantly, they form significant attachments to the older people who care for them.
Around age 4-5 pre-school and kindergarten are presented as expectations for the children. Once they begin their schooling, they begin another different level of socialization. Secondary Socialization occurs in later childhood and adolescence when children go to school and come under the influence of non-family members. This level runs concurrently with primary socialization. Children realize at school that they are judged for their performance now and are no longer accepted unconditionally. In fact, to obtain approval from teachers and school employees a tremendous amount of conformity is required—this is in contrast to having been accepted at home for being “mommy’s little man or woman.” Now, as students, children have to learn to belong and cooperate in large groups. They learn a new culture that extends beyond their narrow family culture and that has complexities and challenges that require effort on their part and that create stressors for the children. By the time of graduation from high school the average US child has attended 15,000 hours of school away from home. They’ve also probably watched 15,000 hours of TV, and spent 5-10,000 playing (video games, friends, Internet, text messaging, etc.).
Friends, class mates, and peers become increasingly important in the lives of children in their secondary educational stage of socialization. Most 0-5 year olds yearn for their parents and family member’s affection and approval. By the time of pre-teen years, the desire for family diminishes and the yearning now becomes for friends and peers. Parents often lament the loss of influence over their children once the teen years arrive. Studies show that parents preserve at least some of their influence over their children by influencing their children’s peers. Parents who host parties, excursions, and get-togethers find that their relationship with their children’s friends keeps them better connected to their children. They learn that they can persuade their children at times through the peers.
The K-12 schooling years are brutal in terms of peer pressures. Often, people live much of their adult lives under the labels they were given in high school. Then it happens. You’ve probably already done this—graduation! Many new high school graduates face the strikingly harsh realities of adulthood shortly after graduation. Anomie often follows and it takes months and years at times for young adults to discover new regulating norms which ground them back into expectable routines of life.
The third level of socialization includes college, work, marriage/significant relationships, and a variety of adult roles and adventures. Adult Socialization occurs as we assume adult roles such as wife/husband/employee/etc. We adapt to new roles which meet our needs and wants throughout the adult life course. Freshmen in college, new recruits in the military, volunteers for Peace Corps and Vista, employees, missionaries, travelers, and others find themselves following the same game plan that lead to their success during their primary and secondary socialization years—find out what’s expected and strive to reach those expectations.
Though we articulate an average life course as follows: infancy, preschool, K-12 school years, young adulthood, adulthood, middle adulthood, and finally later-life adulthood; few life paths conform perfectly to it. People die of heart disease, cancer, brain and lung diseases, and accidents. People marry and divorce, become parents, or finish raising their children. They start a career and change after 5-10 years to another, and later even another. They go bankrupt, win lotteries, or simply pay off their mortgages. In each change that comes into their life, they find themselves adapting to new roles, new expectations, and new limitations. Socialization is an ongoing process for everyone until the day they die.