Agents of Socialization


Peers are people of roughly the same age (same stage of development and maturity), similar social identity, and close social proximity. Typically, children encounter peer group influence around age three or so. Usually these people are neighbors, family members, or day care companions. With peers, the child begins to broaden his or her circle of influence to people outside of the immediate family.

Often peer interaction in the earliest years is closely supervised by parents so it tends to parallel and reinforce what is learned in the family. What is added to socialization, even in these closely supervised situations, are social skills in group situation with social equals. Before this time children basically dealt with people in a superior position.


As childhood progresses, peer group interactions become more autonomous (less observed and supervised by adults). The lessons learned also progress from basic rules of group interaction to more complex strategies of negotiation, dominance, leadership, cooperation, compromise, etc. These lessons are learned first in play and later through games. Peers also establish the platform for children to begin challenging the dominant power of parents and family.

In adolescence, peer group relationships become extremely important, rising up to directly challenge the family. In direct alliance with the media, teenage peers form their own subculture. They learn how to navigate the complexities and nuances of group interaction largely without adult guidance or supervision. Peer group socialization also becomes linked to puberty and the all important role of sexuality and sexual relations in life. Peer groups are where teens largely learn about sex and being sexual and practice the skills of sexuality. Paralleling this, the gender role socialization begun in the family is extended, deepened, and reinforced.

In the adult years the demands of work and family overwhelm most peer group relations and the influence of peers seriously declines as an agent of socialization, only to return during the elderly years.[1]

The peer group exerts a most powerful social influence on the child. A child must earn his/her social position within the peer group; this position does not come naturally, as it does in the family. Interaction with a peer group loosens the child's bonds to the family; it provides both an alternative model for behavior and new social norms and values. To become fully socialized, children must learn how to deal with the conflicting views and values of all of the people who are important in their lives.[2]

How Gender Affects Learning in Peer Groups

There is much research that has been done on how gender affects learning within student peer groups. The purpose of a large portion of this research has been to see how gender affects peer cooperative groups, how that affects the relationships that students have within the school setting, and how gender can then affect attainment and learning.
One thing that is an influence on peer groups is student behavior. Knowing early on that children begin to almost restrict themselves to same-gendered groups, it is interesting to see how those interactions within groups takes place. Boys tend to participate in more active and forceful activities in larger groups, away from adults, while girls were more likely to play in small groups, near adults. These gender differences are also representative of many stereotypical gender roles within these same-gendered groups. This is perhaps a drawback to these groups. The stereotypes are less prominent when the groups are mixed-gendered, because the difference is not salient.
Gender on its own is influenced by many factors, which lead then to collaborative work that can be very beneficial for some students. When the activities within collaborative groups are less structured, the students will then begin to prefer to work in mixed-gendered groups, which is an interesting finding. The more tasks and more structure that is involved in the problem, the more students tend to work in same-gendered groups.


Research on the Mennonite family is more common, but emphasis on the socialization process is still limited. In his book Amish Society, John Hostetler elaborates on children and how they grow up in the home where love and discipline are important to develop responsibility. In Hostetler's Hutterite society, he devotes a whole chapter to family socialization in preparation for initiation (baptism) into adult life and training to identify with the colony, where deviancy is rare. Here he enlarges upon the early stages of socialization, especially infancy, kindergarten, and the school years. Hostetler and Huntington, in their book Hutterites in North America also enlarge on the family and socialization, including age patterns, formal schooling, and socialization of youth.


In these relatively closed Hutterite and Amish societies peers are but one of a number of controlling agents and adults tend to dominate socialization. In more open societies, especially where urban Mennonites find themselves a part of numerous networks, peers become especially influential in schools. Peers provide opportunities to practice social roles, are an important source of information, and greatly influence values and attitudes in mate selection, sex relations, and forms of expression in music, sports and the like. Paul Lederach studied a variety of beliefs, and attitudes of Mennonite youth and concluded that young people from unbroken families had great advantages.[3]

Works Cited

[1]. Sociology Central. 16 May 2009 <>

[2]. Kasper, Loretta F. "Socialization and Culture." Retrieved 16 May 2009 <>

[3]. Driedger, Leo. "Socialization." Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. 1989. Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. Retrieved 16 May 2009 <>


Traditionally around seven years old the child enters the school system in the first grade. Today the process often starts earlier in Kindergarten or day care.
Socialization takes three forms in school:
Official curriculum
What the school system and its teachers announce as their content and goal. It includes the knowledge & skills learned in English, math, history, etc. The school is the official place where our society transmits it accumulated knowledge and skills from one generation to next. It's also the place where we officially pass on our cultural values, tradition, and heritage, at least the "official" heritage.

This curriculum often reinforces but what was learned in the family but it can also challenge family socialization (e.g., teaching values of tolerance to a child from a racist family)
Social curriculum
This is learning social behavior appropriate for peer groups that are not friendship groups, which then become the model for secondary group interactions. Many of the skills learned in peer groups are transferable but now the child learns to communicate, negotiate, dominate, etc. with peers outside of their immediate social circle, often from diverse social backgrounds. In many ways this social curriculum reinforces and deepens gender role socialization started in the family and continued in the peer group.
By middle school and high school, teens have largely learned the social curriculum. It is replaced more and more by peer social interaction in the hallways, in the parking lot, under the bleachers, etc. and broadens away from general group interaction to interaction in sexualized situations. In addition, many adolescence are introduced to the social curriculum through organized sports.
Hidden curriculum
This is learning the rules of behavior need to function in formally organized groups. It includes such behavior maxims as:
• Don't talk when the teacher is talking
• Get your assignments in on time
• Not all teachers have the same rules for their class
• When a teacher tells another student to stop talking, it is not a good idea to start talking to your neighbor since the teacher has already expressed disapproval of that action
It includes positive reinforcement for such values as:
• Precision
• Self-reliance
• Competitiveness
• Obedience


As preparation for the adult world of formal organization and workplace authority, the hidden curriculum stresses such things as formalization and standardization, following instructions, obedience to authority figures that are not Mom and Dad, learning to control behavior and fit into the group, pleasing (even manipulating) authority figures, and working in teams.

One of the primary agents of socialization is the schools. Next to the family the schools are one of the first agents of socialization that children are exposed to after being socialized exclusively by the family. Schools can be viewed as having three major components: teachers, classes and texts, and a culture. If all of these factors work together than the school can be an effective agent, influence the development of ideas. Especially in light of today’s problems in the family (for example, single parents, divorce), the school is seen as a surrogate parent expected to “fill in” for parents who do not have the time or the desire to socialize their children. Much of the literature was conducted in the 70’s when the family was more stable. One could hypothesize that the school is a more important agent of socialization in our time.

The literature on political socialization suggests that the school is mainly a reinforcing agent. Schools tend not to be controversial or direct in their effort to socialize young people. Teachers and texts tend not to be critical or controversial. Instead the tendency is for schools to be conservative and non-controversial. The emphasis is placed on civic education with a stress on citizen responsibility, patriotism, and the development of positive attitudes toward the U.S. government and America. In fact, many of the same stories about the founders are still told. The negative side of America, for example, the way Indians and African Americans have been treated tend to be downplayed. The “hidden agenda” is to create positive attitudes among the young even if this means teaching revisionist history.

Students who take civics or government classes in public schools do not seem to achieve higher levels of political information, political participation, or political efficacy(positive attitudes about political participation and their ability to influence government policy) than students who do not take the courses. This is probably due to the fact that the content of the courses and the teachers are not very challenging. In fact the courses are often taught by teachers without a background in political science and the courses tend to stress facts and non-controversial ideas rather than critical thinking.

Teachers in general have been shown not to have much of an impact on political socialization. This is probably due to the fact that the family is a much stronger agent of socialization than any individual teacher and also the fact that teachers are not free to voice controversial opinions in most grade and high schools. However, keep in mind that much of this literature was gathered in the 70’s and 80’s and doesn’t speak to the changes that have taken place in society in more recent years.
The hidden agenda or hidden curriculum appears to be successful at instilling loyalty, patriotism, and obedience to the law, but does not have as much of an impact on the formation of attitudes toward political institutions and processes, such as, willingness to vote and participate in politics. Differences exist among children based on whether they come from upper or lower socioeconomic homes. Families with parents who have a college education, for example, seem to pass the desired goals of the educational system: political awareness, efficacy and willingness to participate in politics, on to their children while lower class families do not. This suggests that schools (grammar and high) do not have as much influence on the socialization process as does the family.

The college experience appears to be very different from grade and high schools. The potential to influence is much greater in college. The environment is different with teachers and classes more willing to be controversial and to provide an alternative to opinions learned in the earlier years. If the total experience, teachers, classes, peers, and culture are in agreement than an impact is much more likely to take place. If only one or two of these elements offers an alternative to earlier socialization than change is much less likely to occur. Data on this subject goes back as far as the 1940's with the famous Bennington College study. In that longitudinal study the young women who went to Bennington changed from the conservative views of their parents as a result of their college experience.

Work Cited

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