How Socialization Teaches Social Roles

Socialization is the process for passing on the norms, customs, values, and ideologies of a society, either to new adult members, or to succeeding generations of members. In the process of socialization, the concepts, requirements, and assignments of social roles are also passed on.

Socialization is the umbrella concept for a wide variety of methods that are used to insure that the most acceptable and stable components or aspects of a culture survive through the generations. Methods include the formal and informal ways of teaching, storytelling, writing, reward and punishment, that are used to develop more and more complex understandings as a child develops the capacity to understand.

Early in life, the gender roles are established. From the colors that babies wear, to the way in which others interact differently with boys and girl infants, the gender differences in early childhood socialization are obvious and profound. Proud fathers mention sports, physical activity and toughness when referring to their male children, while they express puzzlement about their female children. Proud mothers bemoan the physical activity and aggression in their boys, while enforcing the physical appearance and ability to lay on the charm in their girls.

In early childhood, the separation of girls and boys is apparent, and is enforced by comments about “cuteness” or stories about girl hating or boy hating as expressed in “girls get out” signs on the clubhouse, or “those silly boys get out” signs at the girls clubhouse. In day care and in school, girls dress, behave, and have values that are markedly different from the boys’ behavior, interests and activities. As a result, the differing social roles of males and females are established early and continue through life.

Early on in socialization, religious, economic, racial, ethnic and cultural differences are also identified and the social roles of each class or group are reinforced by both internal and external forces. Schools tend to be segregated not only by race, economic standing, religion, or even neighborhood, they can be segregated within the school by ethnic, racial, and other social orders and differences.

The children voluntarily gravitate toward various groups based on their own understandings of what they have been taught at home, in church, and by each other. There they reinforce, act out, and even learn new and different social roles and functions that the family or officials have nothing to do with. When the school is not diverse, a limited and standard set of social roles are established and reinforced, which requires a lot of adapting when the young adult enters a far more diverse larger world.

When the school is diverse and otherwise sound, there will always be social roles based on what the students do in life. The “Jocks, who are the stars of sports”; the “popular girls” who set the standards for dress, social status, and major relationships; the the arts and science nerds who focus on excellence in culture and the arts; the “social organizers and politicians”; the party kids, who rebel against the materialistic and conformist tendencies of the others, and the outsiders are standard social orders that the students develop for themselves, establishing their own norms as they go along.

When the school is unsound from factors such as overcrowding or being in impoverished communities, and is also wildly ethnically diverse, the students may cling to specific ethnic, gang affiliated, or other groups, and become socialized into deviant or pathological social orders with little or no external involvement or control by authorities.

The nature of high school socializing groups, and social orders are so profound and well developed that they persist through life. In viewing the activities and social behaviors of individuals at any “senior living community”, the classic high school social role playing, with the same values, behaviors, and social processes will still be identifiable in the more visible and actively involved residents who are in their 60s and 70s.

Also, the deviant and dysfunctional school and community groupings, with their firm ideas, values and concepts of social roles, will also be identifiable in prisons and the military, where gang affiliations continue, along with love of sports. But cultural excellence, and other evidence of socialization and of reinforced social roles are also played out, but under far more stringent controls over behavior.