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Sociology Ch. 5 S. 3: Agents
of Socialization
Obj: Identify the most important
agents of socialization in the US;
Explain why family and education
are important social institutions.
The views of Locke, Cooley, and Mead
provide theoretical explanations of the
socialization process. This section
examines some specific forces and
situations that shape socialization.
Sociologists use the term agents of
socialization to describe the specific
individuals, groups, and institutions that
enable socialization to take place. In the
US, the primary agents of socialization
include the family, the peer group, the
school, and the mass media.
The Family
The family is the most
important agent of
socialization in almost every
society. Its primary
importance rests in its role
as the principal socializer of
young children. Children
first interact with others and
first learn the values,
norms, and beliefs of
society through their
Socialization in a family setting can be both
deliberate and unintended.
Deliberate - teaching about telling the truth.
Unintended – (can have greater impact) teaches
child to tell the truth, child sees parent lying. “Do
what I say, not what I do!” Practice what you
Whether deliberate or unintended, the socialization
process differs from family to family, for all families
are not the same. Thus, socialization produces a
society of individuals who share in the patterns of
the larger culture but who retain certain unique
personality and behavior characteristics.
The Peer Group
The family provides many, if
not most, of the
socialization experiences of
early childhood. As children
grow older, forces outside
of the family increasingly
influence them. In
particular, children begin to
relate more and more to
their peer groups. A peer
group is a primary group
composed of individuals of
roughly equal age and
similar social
Peer groups are particularly influential
during the pre-teenage and early teenage
years. Without peer acceptance, they are
labeled as misfits, outsiders, or a similar
disparaging term. To win this acceptance,
young people willingly adopt the values
and standards of the peer group. In
essence, they shape themselves into the
kind of person they think the group wants
them to be.
Peer-group socialization is different from
socialization within the family. The norms
and values imparted by the family usually
focus on the larger culture. However, in
peer groups the focus is the subculture of
the group. Peer-group goals are
sometimes at odds with the goals of the
larger society. Parents in particular
become alarmed if they come to believe
that the norms and values of the peer
group are more important to their children
than those of society as a whole.
The School
For most young people,
school occupies large
amounts of time and
attention. Between
the ages of 5 and 18,
young people spend
some 30 weeks a
year in school. Thus,
the school plays a
major role in
socializing individuals.
Much of this socialization is deliberate. Class
activities are planned for the deliberate
purpose of teaching reading, etc.
Extracurricular activities, such as school
dances are intended to prepare the student
for life in the larger society. Schools also
attempt to transmit cultural values, such as
patriotism, responsibility, and good
A large amount of unintentional socialization
also occurs. Teachers may become models
in such areas as manners of speech or styles
of dress. In addition, peer groups can
influence the habits of their members.
The Mass Media
The previous forms of
socialization involved
personal contact. Mass
media, however, involves
no face-to-face interaction.
The mass media are
instruments of
communication that reach
large audiences with no
personal contact between
those sending the
information and those
receiving it. The major
forms are books, films,
Internet, radio, and TV.
Of these, TV probably has the most
influence on the socialization of children.
Some 98% of the homes in the US have
TV’s, with an average of more than 2 sets
per home. Most importantly, research
shows that most children watch an
average of about 28 hours each week.
Further, watching TV is the primary afterschool activity for 6- to 17-year-olds.
Indeed, most children spend almost twice
as much time watching TV as they spend
in school.
The effect of TV on children is a topic of
ongoing debate. On the negative side,
research indicates that by age 18, most
children will have witnessed 200,000
fictional acts of violence, including 16,000
murders. Several studies have found a
connection between TV violence and
aggressive behavior among young people.
These studies say that, among other things,
because TV violence often appears painless
or not harmful, it invites viewers to be less
sensitive to the suffering of others.
On the positive side, TV
expands the viewers’
world. It can be a
powerful educational
tool. For example, TV
brings far-off places
into viewers’ homes,
makes world events
immediate, and
introduces viewers to
subjects they
otherwise might never
The total institution is a rather unique agent
of socialization. A total institution is a
setting in which people are isolated from
the rest of society for a set period of time
and are subject to tight control. Prisons,
military boot camps, monasteries, and
psychiatric hospitals are examples of total
Socialization in a total institution differs from the
process found in most other settings. Total
institutions are primarily concerned with
resocializing their members. Resocialization
involves a break with past experiences and the
learning of new values and norms. In the case of
most total institutions, resocialization is directed
toward changing an individual’s personality and
social behavior. These modifications are
accomplished by stripping away all semblance of
individual identity and replacing it with an
institutional identity-uniforms, standard haircuts,
and so on. The individual is also denied the
freedoms of the outside world. Once the person’s
sense of self has been weakened, it is easier for
those in power to convince that person to conform
to new patterns of behavior.