Friday, May 17, 2013

Just How Important is Early Socialization?

If you’re a parent with little ones, you’ve no doubt answered the same question thousands of times: ‘Do you go to any play groups?’. I know I have. In most cases, this is harmless chitchat between parents and friends, but it can also be a way of seeing whether you’re for or against the concept of early socialization. There is absolutely no doubt in my mind that children need to have interactions with others, particularly with kids their own age, and fortunately many have this opportunity when they start school – but should we really be encouraging socialization in babies, toddlers, and preschoolers?

Talk to any parent and you’ll see that there are many arguments both for and against early socialization. You’ve probably read on sites about child development that early interactions with others will help children to become confident, well-rounded individuals, but some parents maintain that kids shouldn’t be forced into these situations, and that Mom and Dad should remain the primary influences. I’m certainly torn on how I can give my daughter the best start, and socialization certainly tends to divide a nation, but whatever your views are, here are some interesting points to think about from both perspectives.

Arguments for Early Socialization

Socialization really has two main aims: to teach and to develop. In terms of teaching, it aims to teach children not only how to interact with others, but also how to behave in what we perceive to be a socially acceptable manner in the environment in which we live. In simple terms, it aims to produce friendly, confident, and intelligent children through mimicking.

Many parents in India send their children to playschools when they are 2 years old, and then the kids often join a nursery school when they turn 3. But some parents choose to leave their children in daycare when they are even younger; a common concern among new parents is whether they should go back to work, leaving their kids in daycare. I’m only too aware that it’s a difficult decision, but I’m also somewhat comforted by the idea that interacting with other children can give my daughter something I can’t. In social situations without parental guidance, kids have the opportunity to mix with children of different races, different backgrounds, and different classes. Thinking of socialization in terms of preparation for the ‘real world’, this type of interaction is far more relevant than encouraging children to only mix with family members or pre-chosen friends. This situation brings up another question – is socialization leading the way towards a more accepting and open-minded nation?

Now looking specifically at the development side of socialization, the journal Sibling Interaction Across Cultures published a study that looked at differences between only children and those with siblings. Not surprisingly, it found that socializing with someone other than a parent greatly helped pragmatic skills and emotional intelligence, with improvements in things like turn taking, eye contact, and sharing. As I don’t plan to have more children, I value any chances my daughter has to learn these skills outside of the home – especially as competition for school places (and nursery school places) is becoming more intense, as these behaviours and skills can be a clear advantage.

Arguments Against Early Socialization

The main argument against early socialization is that, while it’s good for children to mix with others from different backgrounds, we don’t always want our kids being influenced by those who have vastly different ideas and beliefs. Yes, it’s important for our kids to understand that there are opinions other than their own. However, for parents who strive to raise their children with certain values, can early socialization actually be detrimental?

Socialization encourages independence, and this is good – but how early do we want our kids to be independent? By school age, this is a great benefit, but a study by researchers from the Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, USA, found that independence born from early socialization encouraged a lack of obedience to parental commands. This is something that concerns me. I want my daughter to have imagination and ideas, but worry about maintaining the line between creativity and bad behaviour.

Don’t Feel Guilty!

The problem with early socialization is that it isn’t black and white. Just take a look at some of the questions asked here. Are socialized children open-minded and accepting? Some will be, some won’t. Are non-socialized children becoming disobedient? Some will be, some won’t. I haven’t yet decided where I stand on the notion of early socialization, but I understand both sides of the argument. The most important thing is that we shouldn’t feel guilty for how we raise our children. There are pros and cons for both types of upbringings, neither of which can be proved as ‘better’. Early socialization is only important if you think it’s important; it’s a very personal decision and one that only you can make.

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