The family as a primary agent of socialization
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The Family as a Primary Agent of Socialization. Learning Goals : Definition of family Functions of the family Types of families Case studies : what happens to a person when the family does not socialize their children properly ? Genie Harlow’s Monkey Experiment

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The Family as a Primary Agent of Socialization

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The Family as a Primary Agent of Socialization

Learning Goals:

Definition of family

Functions of the family

Types of families

Case studies: what happens to a person when the family does not socialize their children properly?


Harlow’s Monkey Experiment

2 Year Old Goes to the Hospital Experiment

Definitions of Family:

  • Emily Nett (Canadian Sociologist): a family is “any group of people considered to be related by blood or marriage.”

  • Statistics Canada: The family is “a unit consisting of a married couple living with or without never-married children, or a single parent living with never-married children.”

  • The Vanier Institute of the Family (2011):

    “Any combination of two or more persons who are bound together over time by ties of mutual consent, birth and/or adoption or placement and who, together, assume responsibilities for variant combinations of some of the following:

    • Physical maintenance and care of group members

    • Addition of new members through procreation or adoption

    • Socialization of children

    • Social control of members

    • Production, consumption, distribution of goods and services, and

    • Affective nurturance — love.”

Evolving Legal Definition of Family

  • Canadian legislation has extended the legal definition of family from the original concept (based on heterosexual marriage and biological links to children) to include:

  • Step parents

  • Unwed fathers

  • Co-habitation

  • Unmarried and married homosexual partners

  • Why is this significant?

    • These groups now have the same rights and responsibilities that heterosexual couples (original definition) have – i.e. health benefits, child custody, assets etc.

6 Universal Functions of the Family:

  • Addition of new members through reproduction

  • Provide physical care for their members

  • Socialize children by teaching them skills, knowledge, values and attitudes of their society.

  • Controlling the behaviour of their families to maintain order in society.

  • Motivate individuals to participate in society

  • Perform the economic function of producing and consuming goods and services.

Types of Families:

  • Nuclear Family: a family structure in which the husband and wife live with their children

  • Blended or Reconstituted Family: a family structure created when divorced partners with children marry

  • Extended Family: a family consisting of all relatives (parents, children, grandparents, aunts and uncles, cousins etc.) living under the same roof

  • Common-law Family: a family in which partners live together with or without children but are not legally married.

  • Childless Family: a family in which partners are married but have no children.

  • Single-Parent Family: a family consisting of one parent (mother or father) and his/her children.

  • Transitional family, in which the mother/father temporality leaves the work force to look after the young children.

  • Dual-income family, in which both spouses work full-time, have emerged.

Case Studies:

Feral Children - The Case of Genie - Mocking bird Don’t Sing (movie)

Harlow’s Monkey Experiment

2 Year Old Goes to the Hospital

So…what happens when the process of Socialization is absent or abnormal in childhood?

Genie – Wild Child – Feral and Isolated Children

Modern Examples of Isolated Children

Attachment Theory – Harlow’s Monkey Experiment & A Two year old goes to the hospital

Feral Children

A feral child is a human child who has lived away from human contact from a very young age, and has little or no experience of human care, loving or social behavior, and, crucially, of human language. Feral children are confined by humans (often parents), brought up by animals, or live in the wild in isolation.

Oxana Malaya (born November 1983) was found as an 8-year-old feral child in Ukraine in 1991, having lived most of her life in the company of dogs.

Feral/Isolated Children - The Case of Genie

Genie was a feral child who spent nearly all of the first thirteen years of her life locked inside a room. She was discovered by authorities on November 4, 1970. Genie is the fourth (and second surviving) child of unstable parents, Irene and Clark. An elder brother also lived in the home.

Psychologist, linguists and other scientists exhibited great interest in the case due to its perceived ability to reveal insights into the development of language and linguistic critical periods.

Current Examples of Isolated Children – abuse and neglect of parents


A Two Year Old Goes to the Hospital

A film showing the suffering of a little girl in hospital separated from her mother

If going to hospital means losing the care of the mother, the young child will fret for her -- no matter how kind the doctors, nurses, and play ladies. This film classic, made in 1952, drew attention to the plight of young patients at a time when visiting by parents was severely restricted.

Laura, aged 2, is in hospital for 8 days to have a minor operation. She is too young to understand her mother's absence. Because her mother is not there and the nurses change frequently, she has to face the fears, frights and hurts with no familiar person to cling to. She is extremely upset and becomes quiet. But at the end of her stay she is withdrawn from her mother, shaken in her trust.

In recent years there have been great changes in children's wards, partly brought about by this film. But many young children still go to hospital without the mother, and despite the play ladies and volunteers the depth of their distress and the risks to later mental health remain an insufficiently recognized problem.

Harry F. Harlow, Monkey Love Experiments

Harlow’s Monkey Experiments

In a well-known series of experiments conducted between 1957 and 1963, researcher Harry Harlow removed baby rhesus monkeys from their mothers, and offered them a choice between two surrogate mothers, one made of terrycloth, the other of wire.

In Harlow's classic experiment, two groups of baby rhesus monkeys were removed from their mothers. In the first group, a terrycloth mother provided no food, while a wire mother did, in the form of an attached baby bottle containing milk. In the second group, a terrycloth mother provided food; the wire mother did not. It was found that the young monkeys clung to the terrycloth mother whether or not it provided them with food, and that the young monkeys chose the wire surrogate only when it provided food.

Whenever a frightening stimulus was brought into the cage, the monkeys ran to the cloth mother for protection and comfort, no matter which mother provided them with food.

  • How do Harlow’s experiment and the case of ‘A 2-Year Old Goes to the Hospital” help us to understand the importance of socialization?

    • Nurturing love and attachment is important from birth

    • We all have a need for love, belonging and safety

    • The family’s role in primary socialization is extremely important in the individuals future development.

  • Attachment Theory – (John Bowlby):

  • Attachment is an emotional bond to another person.

  • It is a "lasting psychological connectedness between human beings"

  • Earliest bonds formed by children with their parents/family/caregivers have a tremendous impact that continues throughout life.

  • Attachment also serves to keep the infant close to the mother, thus improving the child's chances of survival.

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