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Stages of Socialization. The socialization process continues throughout all stages of the human life cycle. But it is important to understand that we do not move from one stage to another in the clear-cut way that we are promoted from one school grade to another. Our social development varies with the individual and the social situations in which that person must function. Thus, in our shift from childhood to adulthood we go through a prolonged period of transition known as adolescence. After that a person will pass through a series of developmental stages.
The American psychologist Daniel Levinson in his book «The Seasons of a Man's Life» identified three major transitional periods that occur primarily after adolescence. The first transitional period, the early adult transition, begins at about age 17 and extends to age 22. It marks the time at which a male gradually enters the adult world, perhaps moving out of the parental home, beginning a career, or entering a marriage. The second transitional period, the midlife transition, typically begins at about age 40. American men often experience a stressful period of self-evaluation commonly known as the midlife crisis, in which they realize that they have not achieved basic goals and ambitions and have little time left to do so. The final period of transition is the late adult transition which occurs between 60 and 65 years of age. At this time many Americans begin restricting their occupational duties and preparing for retirement. However, it is important to note that the nation's attitude toward aging has undergone a dramatic change in recent decades. No longer is it widely accepted that old people should simply sit around passively, waiting to die. Instead, there has been an increase in programs to socialize the elderly for meaningful pursuits and continued living.
Levinson's formulation was developed to describe the life cycle of men in the United States. While his conclusions are relevant for some women — especially those who follow the traditional career patterns of men — they do not necessarily reflect the typical life for women. A key aspect of his work is the notion that men have a dream of what the adult world is like — a vision that creates excitement and a sense of possibility. Yet, until recently, most women were socialized into visions of the future centering on marriage and children rather than achievements in paid labor force.
One stage of development identified by Levinson, the midlife crisis, is clearly evident in both sexes. Social scientists are only beginning to explore the nature of the midlife crisis. In one study they developed a scale ranking 43 stressful life events that may require important social adjustments and resocialization. The events ranking as most stressful include marriage, death of a spouse or a close family member, a divorce, serving a jail term, a personal injury or an illness, a dismissal from work, retirement, business readjustment. The events ranking least stressful include Christmas, vacation, a change in eating or sleeping habits, a change in social activities or recreation. The events ranking rather stressful are a change in the financial state, troubles with in-laws, a change in living conditions, pregnancy, the gain of a new family member, troubles with the boss.
Creating a self does not occur in a week. It is a lifelong transformation which begins in the crib and continues as one prepares for death. The lifelong socialization involves many different social forces which influence our lives and alter our self-images.
The family is the institution most closely associated with the process of socialization and is its most important agent. We experience socialization first as babies and infants living in families; it is here that we develop an initial sense of self. Most parents seek to help their children to be socialized into the norms and values of both the family and the larger society. Like the family, the school is a very important agent in socializing children into the norms and values of our culture. Schools foster competition through built-in systems of reward and punishment such as grades and evaluations by teachers.
As a child grows older, the family becomes somewhat less important in his or her social development. Instead, peer groups increasingly assume the role of «the significant others». Peer groups are friendship groups, youth gangs and special-interest clubs. Within the peer group young people associate with others who are approximately their own age and who often enjoy a similar social status. A peer group maintains a meaningful system of rewards and punishments. The group may encourage a teenager to follow pursuits that the society considers admirable. On the other hand, it can encourage someone to violate the society's norms and values.
Peer groups play a very important role in the transition to adult responsibilities. At home parents tend to dominate; at school the teenager must contend with teachers and administrators. Bat within the peer group each member can assert himself or herself in a way that may not be possible elsewhere. Nevertheless, almost all adolescents in our culture remain economically dependent on their parents, and most are emotionally dependent as well.
In the last 75 years such technological innovations, as mass media — radio, motion pictures and television — have become important agents of socialization. Television, in particular, is a critical force in the socialization of children. It permits imitation and role playing but does not encourage more complex forms of learning. Watching television is a passive experience — one sits back and waits to be entertained. Critics of television are further alarmed by the fact that children (as well as adults) are exposed to a great deal of violence on television. But television is not always a negative socializing influence. Creative programs can assist children in developing basic skills essential for schooling. In addition, television programs and even commercials expose young people to lifestyles and cultures of which they are unaware. But still parents should not allow the TVset to become a child's favorite play-mate and should monitor this aspect of a child's environment just as carefully as they evaluate teachers, play-mates and baby-sitters.
A fundamental aspect of human socialization involves learning to behave appropriately within an occupation in a workplace. Scientists havedivided occupational socialization into four phases. The first phase is career choice, which involves selection of academic or vocational training appropriate for the desired job. The next phase is anticipatory socialization which refers to the process of socialization whereby people get acquainted with norms, values, and behavior associated with a social position before actually assuming that status. For example, some children «inherit» their occupations from their parents. The third phase, conditioning, occurs while a person starts actually occupying his work-related role after adjusting himself or herself to the aspects of the job. And, if the job proves to be satisfactory, the person will enter the fourth stage of socialization which is called continues commitment. At this point, the job becomes an indistinguishable part of the person's self-identity.
Occupational socialization can be more intense immediately after one makes the transition from school to the job, but it continues through one's work history. Technological advances may alter the requirements of the positions and necessitate some degree of resocialization, that is the process of discarding former behavior patterns and accepting new ones as part of a transition in one's life. In addition, people change occupations, employers or workplaces during their adult years.
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