The importance of the family in the socialization process

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Socialization is a fundamental process through which a family acquires cultural and personal identity. Each person undergoes natural, planned, negative, or positive socialization in his or her life, regardless of gender or age. A family is one of the agencies that introduce a child to aspects like culture, physical, and psychological identities or behaviours and environment, which are some of the major elements of socialization.

Commonly, there are three types of families, single parent, nuclear, and extended; each of the family may differently expose a child to the aspects of socialization. The main role of a family is to nurture, mould, and guide children in the society; therefore, a child who does not belong to any family may undergo a negative socialization process.

Since the adoption of the word society, different sociologists like Max Weber have come up with a number of social theories namely feminist theory, conflict theory, consensus theory, theory of ‘self’, concept of the human mind, looking glass-self theory, and symbolic theory among others. Therefore, according to sociologists, the dynamic environment and familial identity in correlation with the elements of socialization determine the social behaviour of an individual in both childhood and adulthood.

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A family is a fundamental institution that assists an individual or child to develop into an acceptable member of the society. Although each parent in a family has a role in the upbringing of a child, in many cases, the mother initiates the socialization process in a child.

Besides giving the sense of belonging or identity, a family imparts culture, traditions, norms, social roles, and values into the child (Merton, 1957, p.10). The processes of listening, language learning, and respect to authority start at the family level. Furthermore, it is the role of the family to provide a decent living environment for the children.

All children are a product of their environment; thus, to impart positive social values in a child, parents should choose an environment free from any negative influence. Drug abuse, criminal activities, and immoral behaviours are some of the negative aspects an environment might impart in a growing child. Most children learn from their friends, peers, parents, neighbours, and schoolmates.

Therefore, parents should familiarize with the friends of their children to ensure that the children do not deviate from the conventional social behaviours through external forces. In the light of this revelation, it suffices to conclude that, a family is a social institution that ensures that a child conforms to the acceptable standards of the society. The societal attributes that a family instils in a child include personality, skills/knowledge, social stability/order, cultural transmission, life aspirations, and social discipline among others.

The elements of socialization that a family imparts into a child are three. The first aspect is the inheritance of physical features and the psychological well being of a child. Parents pass their physical features to their children while psychological satisfaction of a child occurs when he or she grows up (Herman & Reynolds, 1994, p.17).

If a child experiences traumatic events like violence, or rape, he or she undergoes psychological instability even in adulthood. Secondly, environment is a crucial element of socialization especially to young stars.

The home, school, or institution in which a child lives in, determine the moral conducts of the child. A child who undergoes physically torture at home may become a drug addict, abuse alcohol, and/or venture into criminal activities like robbery or even commit suicide (Homans, 1962, p.34). The final concept is the element of culture whereby, a family initiates a child into specific cultural attributes. Depending on the sexual identity, parents bestow different gender roles to their children.

Mothers guide girls/daughters on their roles as wives and future mothers while fathers teach boys/sons on their roles as future fathers. In addition, each family or community has different cultural practices like initiation, dress code, and other formalities, which a family passes to its children to ensure they fit in the immediate society. Thus, physical and psychological inheritance, environment, and culture are the key elements a family fosters into a child.

Although most families have similar ways of socialization, some aspects instilled in a child differ from one family to another. A child from a nuclear or single parent family may have limited interaction with other relatives or members of the society.

Each family ensures that its children learn and practice the prevalent culture; however, a child from a single parent family may only learn culture from one parent. Moreover, each parent/family has diverse ways of imparting social skills to children. While some parents are harsh and strict, others rely on dialogue to instil moral values in their children.

Some parents enrol their children into boarding schools, others restrict their children from interacting with relatives or other members of the extended families, others employee house helps to monitor their children, and others quit their jobs to raise their children. Therefore, the methodology adapted by families may differ, but eventually the norms, values, and morals instilled have a similar relationship in one way or another.

The different theories of sociology attempt to correlate social science with other disciplines. For instance, the functionalism theory relates sociology to other scientific phenomena like research and biological organisms among others to explore the society/sociology as a subject.

Fundamentally, each of the adapted sociological theories exclusively focuses on one subject or phenomenon. Therefore, if an individual reads the social theories concurrently, he or she will understand the concept of sociology. Thus, the socialization theory plays a role in effecting the adaptation of exemplary personality or social attributes like obedience and compelling individuals to conform to their societal practices.

Sociologists have adapted different sociological theories to try to explain the subject of sociology. Also referred to as the consensus theory, functionalist theory describes the integration of human beings in the society through the sharing of the common cultural practices (Layton, 1997, P.20). The functionalist theory defines socialization as a functional requisite that leads to a stable society through the establishment of permanent social norms.

According to Durkheim, many systems, both physical and scientific, interact to determine the social behaviour of an individual (Michener, 1999, p.50). The systems are usually independent of the social laws surrounding the individual. The balance or equilibrium between humans and the society maintains a stable society. Religion, culture, and tradition are some of the elements, which shape up the society.

The society establishes specific social control tactics, which conform to the desired values and practices. For instance, if an individual adapts unbecoming behaviour like sneering through condemnation from the people around him or her, s/he will learn to discard the behaviour. Therefore, in relation to family as a channel of socialization, the functionalist theory describes a family as a societal institution established to ensure that there is continuity of a stable society.

Adopted from the ideologies of Karl Max, conflict theory describes socialization as competition, in which human beings not only interact, but also disagree and fight to maintain power (Clause, 1968, p.5). Therefore, the tenacity to compete for wealth and power defines the society as an unequal environment where a person or group decides to dominate over the others. Hence, capitalism, oppression, class systems, and materialism are some of the permanent characteristics of the society.

According to Max, the political, social, and economic stability of the society is in line with the conflict theory (Westen, 2002, p.40). Through family as a socializing institution, an individual must fall in some of the aforementioned groups. A child from a ruling class family will fight to maintain the status quo in the society. The conflict theory gives a sense of belonging to the society especially during socialization.

The family, as a social environment, may change due to external and internal forces like conflicts, divorce, emigration, death, and other natural calamities like floods. Due to the above issues, a child may abruptly change his or her living environment, which may also change the course of his/her socialization process. Similarly, a child may lose a parent in early age leaving him or her in the care of stepparents, foster parents, and grandparents.

The unfortunate ones end up as street children. The new environment may neglect or expose the child to new social practices or impart negative social practices in them. Political instability is among the elements that may scatter a family, and consequently affect the transmission of social norms in children. Furthermore, some of the traumatic events may also divert or impart negative social values like hatred in children.

Gardener Murphy has developed the theory of ‘self’ as a fundamental aspect in socialization. According to Murphy, an individual or self is a reflection of the environment especially the people one interacts with in life (Mead, 1967, p.80). The theory of ‘looking-glass self’ describes an individual’s characters as the mirror of the society. Appearance, judgment, and self-feeling of an individual develop through social interaction with the society (Mead, 1967, p.75).

Similarly, George Herbert Meads’ theory of ‘self’ describes the relationship of parentage or family to social development of the child (Mead, 1967, p.60). Before a child adapts to the external environment, he or she will initially practice the behaviour of the parents (Westen, 2002, p.50). Through the family, a child learns that to develop her awareness he or she will have to interact with others in the society, thus, socialization. In connection with the family, the theory of self describes a family as a fundamental unit in socialization.

Although the family is the commonly known social environment, other social institutions like the state, school, and church play a vital role in building an individual’s personality. The diversity of a social environment determines the conduct of an individual in adulthood. A child who visits religious gatherings like churches, temples, and mosques will attentively listen and shape his or her moral conduct according to the sermons.

On the other hand, a parent who does not worship in any church will pass the similar attributes to their children or generations. Secondly, the state drafts and enacts laws that each citizen has to uphold. Different states/countries or societies have different laws, which the members have to live by, and a breach in any of the laws leads to a punishment.

Apart from family/home, the school imparts social attributes in children. Knowledge, skills, and aspirations are some of the virtues a child/individual picks from school. Sometimes, children may adapt the behavioural conducts of their teachers or instructors. Finally, while at school or home, children acquire playmates who sometimes determine their behaviour. A child or an individual will adapt the behavioural conduct of his/her peers; therefore, negative or positives social values may originate from playmates.

Depending on the surrounding environment, a child conforms to its social norms; similarly, a child will pick up a new behaviour if he or she changes the environment. Thus, it is the role of the society to ensure the social conduct of its environment is not only acceptable, but also safe for the future of an individual. A dynamic environment may confuse a child, which leads to psychological trauma. Therefore, parents should ensure their children stay in a stable environment.

In the contemporary world, the social norms or values are not only dynamic, but also acquired through other channels other than the family, school, or church. Globally, the technological development of computers and the Internet services has led to the adaptation of diverse ways of socialization.

Globalization promotes multiculturalism, interracial marriages, and other diverse social interactions (Goffman, 1961, p.10). Contemporarily, children learn both negative and positive social aspects through social sites like facebook, tweeter, and LinkedIn among others. Sadly, the current upward trend in globalization rarely instils positive values in the young stars.

Besides practicing unacceptable social behaviours like pornography, young people also disregard physical social interactions. Whether at school, home or in the public, children concentrate on their mobile phones, surfing the Internet or interacting with friends or strangers through the social sites. In addition, the young stars have the unfortunate chance to choose what is right or awry without the seasoned guidance of the adults.

In the same light, entertainment channels like television, cinemas, and music playing systems promote different social values into teenagers or individuals. The aforementioned systems are among the common environments that a child in the current society faces as he or she grows into adulthood. Unfortunately, with the fast changes in globalization, there is poor assimilation of children into the society.

Modern parents concentrate on careers and, as a result, they neglect their roles in parentage; therefore, they leave their children to learn vital social values from peers or immediate environment. Consequently, children end up adopting criminal behaviours while some may not even fit into the society. Therefore, the family, as the primary social institution, should integrate into the dynamic environment in the present worldwide; otherwise, the next generations may lack vital social norms.

In conclusion, a family is the principal unit in socialization. The family imparts cultural practices, determines the living environment, and the physical and psychological identity of the children. Socialization, as a subject, has led to the adoption of different sociological theories that have enabled the effective study of the subject.

Marxist, conflict, and consensus theories are among the common theories studied in sociology. Social institutions like family, schools, churches, and mosques also instil positive social practices in individuals. Finally, the dynamic environment and globalization have led to the adaptation of new social practices; unfortunately, some of these new socialization trends promote antisocial behaviours among the youths.


Clausen, J. A. (1968). Socialization and Society. Boston: Little Brown and Company.

Goffman, E. (1961). Encounters: Two Studies in the Sociology of Interaction. London: Macmillan Publishing Co.

Herman, N. J., & Reynolds, L.T. (1994). Symbolic Interaction: An Introduction to Social Psychology. New York: Altamira Press.

Homans, G. C. (1962).Sentiments and Activities. New York: The Free Press Of Glencoe.

Layton, R. (1997). An Introduction to Theory in Anthropology. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Mead, G. H. (1967). Mind, Self, & Society: From the Standpoint of a Social Behaviourist. Chicago: University of Chicago press.

Merton, R. (1957).Social Theory and Social Structure revised and enlarged. London: The Free Press of Glencoe.

Michener, H. A., & John D. (1999). Social Psychology. Harcourt: Brace College Publishers.

Westen, D. (2002) Psychology: Brain, Behaviour & Culture. New York: Wiley & Sons.

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