A Whole New Look at Socialization, Part 2

by Marlene Molewyk

Part 2 of a series (link to part 3 is at end of article)
Originally published in Practical Homeschooling magazine
April/May/June 2010 issue

In the last issue, I raised the provocative point that just maybe, the "accepted" socialization process is bad for children. This time, I'd like to prove that this is, in fact, the case. So here are some things to think about the next time someone asks you, "What about socialization?"

Long-term result of the accepted socialization process  #1:
Lonely, hurting adults.

Photo courtesy of freedigitalphotos.net

In her book The Friendship Crisis, writer Marla Paul recalls an essay she wrote for the Chicago Tribune, about her struggle to make new friends when she moved from Dallas to Chicago: 

"The essay appeared on a Sunday. By Monday morning my phone was ringing, and by Tuesday, the letters began to arrive...their response and relief were universal: 'Thank God, it's not just me!' they said. When I wrote a similar story for Ladies Home Journal, I was also flooded with letters—this time from around the country. I'd yanked the curtain off a shameful secret, only there is nothing shameful about it. A lot of women are lonely."

As it turns out, a lot of men are lonely, too. Check out the following statistics from a study entitled "Social Isolation in America", conducted by researchers at Duke University and the University of Arizona and published in the June 2006 issue of American Sociological Review:

  • 24.6% of American adults have zero confidantes (close friends with whom they can discuss important personal matters). 
  • 42.8% of American adults have zero confidantes outside of their family.

Right now, some of you may be thinking, "But aren't people connecting through Facebook? Twitter? E-mail?" The answer is yes, but not very deeply. Lynn Smith-Lovin, a Duke University researcher involved in the study above, explained: 
"We're not saying people are completely isolated. They may have six hundred friends on Facebook.com and e-mail twenty-five people a day, but they are not discussing matters that are personally important."

Photo courtesy of freedigitalphotos.net

After analyzing thousands of interviews conducted in 2007, Barna Research arrived at the same conclusion, which they announced in an article on Barna.org, "Barna Finds Four Mega-Themes in Recent Research": 

"...adults—especially those under 30—regularly strive to be connected to a substantial number of other people and yet possess a nagging sense of loneliness, isolation and restlessness." 

In a February 19, 2009 Examiner.com article entitled "Could Facebook Be Killing You?", freelance writer Malia Frey wryly adds, "Facebook, MySpace, and Twitter help us to feel connected...but for the most part, we participate in online networking only when we are alone."
So, if a quarter of American adults have zero close friends they can confide in, almost half of American adults have no close friends outside of their family, and many adults continue to feel lonely and isolated, despite a cultural obsession with social networking technologies designed to supposedly connect people—

Then what does this say about the accepted socialization process? Does it really work?

Before you answer those questions, try factoring divorce into the whole equation. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's National Center for Health Statistics, there were over seven million divorces in the United States between 2000-2007. If each divorce represents at least one person, if not two, who can't effectively communicate, resolve conflict, and get along with each other, and in many cases are either abusive or unfaithful—again, what does this say about the accepted socialization process that produced this outcome? Because if I'm not mistaken, getting along with others, communicating well, resolving conflicts, keeping your commitments, and treating others kindly are socialization skills, are they not?

When you consider all of these facts, it appears that the accepted socialization process is a complete sham.

Long-term result of the accepted socialization process #2:
Adults who don't know who God created them to be, or what God created them to do with their lives.

Photo courtesy of freedigitalphotos.net

Kids are socialized at school to hide pretty much anything about themselves that their peers may deem uncool. Doing this eliminates a certain degree of social rejection and humiliation at school, but it comes with a huge price tag that I remember well: 

We end up viewing the things we've hidden as flaws, we become ashamed of these supposed flaws, and we tend to keep them hidden well into adulthood.These so-called flaws are usually related to our background, our distinct physical and personality traits, as well as our intelligence and opinions. 

But these are the very things that make us unique and point toward what God created us to enjoy doing with our lives!

I see the results of this flaw-stifling process all the time. I write resumes and provide career counseling to people as a ministry of sorts, and in the process, I've had very in-depth talks with dozens of men and women, ages 20-60. Many of them have confessed, "Well, my degree is in such and such, and my career has involved such and such, but I've never truly enjoyed any of it. I'm feeling unfulfilled and unhappy, but I really don't know what I want to do, and I don't know what I'd really enjoy doing." 

These are people who have lost sight of who they truly are, because they've been socialized from an early age to hide themselves and be something they're not. This is a sure prescription for unhappiness!

I realize that this particular group of people I'm talking about might be a skewed sample, so to be a bit more scientific, I enlisted the help of Google. When you type a phrase into Google and enclose it in quotation marks, Google will pull up only websites containing that exact phrase. Well, when I typed "I don't know who I am" into Google, 15.6 million weblinks popped up! When I typed "I don't know what I want to do with my life" (which is what happens when you don't know who you are), 38.3 million weblinks popped up. That's a lot of confused people!

Long-term result of the accepted socialization process #3:
Adults who have a hard time withstanding peer pressure in adulthood.
Photo courtesy of freedigitalphotos.net & jscreationz

When we began homeschooling nine years ago, it grossly violated the "stick with the herd" socialization principle that I learned as a child. I initially received a lot of gentle peer pressure to stop being so weird and put our kids in school like everyone else. 

But a year or two into our homeschooling journey, things became very ugly. Formerly polite people began openly criticizing our decision to homeschool, and in one case, a "properly socialized" family member called up and screamed that we were raising "psychological misfit homeschool [expletive deleted]".

During these moments of painful peer pressure, my inner conformist (developed through our accepted socialization process) would whisper, "Come on, just give in and send the kids to school. Then you'll be normal like everyone else! No one will pick on you anymore! Come on, it'll make you feel good!" 

I didn't give in, but I was very tempted to, and the peer pressure negatively affected my attitude toward homeschooling. For many years, I felt driven to make my kids perform, in order to show up my many critics, and I dreaded any events involving openly critical family members or friends.I've talked to enough homeschooling parents to know that most of us have felt this way at some time or another. 

And if we, as "properly socialized" adults, still struggle to deal with other "properly socialized" adults who are peer pressuring us to be like everyone else, then what does this say about how we were all socialized? 

And, more importantly, is it really realistic to expect our children to do any better if we allow them to get socialized in the accepted, yet clearly failing method of socialization?

Long-term result of the accepted socialization process #4
Adults who allow their children's peers to influence the way they parent their children.

Photo courtesy of freedigitalphotos.net
The threat of one's child not fitting in, being bullied, or getting ostracized drives many parenting decisions, including the most important big picture decision: what kind of a child do I want to raise? Harvard psychologist William Pollack elaborates in his book Real Boys:

"Time after time women have voiced to me their doubts and confusion. Yes, they say, we want to raise boys who are sensitive to others, who can play with girls, who are aware of their vulnerable emotions and [are] not afraid to express them. But, they add, we also don't want to raise a boy who will be branded a wimp, who will have to endure teasing and beatings from other boys, who will have no friends and no dates in high school. How can we raise a son to be the kind of sensitive man we'd want to have a relationship with and still have him survive the relentless peer pressure of grade school and the adolescent years?"

This is a lose-lose dilemma: parents can either encourage their children to conform to bully-driven social norms at school, knowing that it will often involve their children stifling the best parts of themselves. Or parents can force their children to not conform (where possible), knowing full well that non-conformance often results in social humiliation.

As an example of this, a friend once fretted to me about his fourth grade daughter. At the time, the other girls in his daughter's class watched the show Friends and talked about it all the time. His daughter wanted to watch it too, but he said no, due to the sexual content of the show. However, he questioned whether he was doing the right thing, because he was terrified that his daughter would be branded a geek by her classmates. In other words, my friend was feeling peer pressured by his daughter's classmates!

Within the accepted socialization process, these types of situations continue as children get older, except the situations become more complex. For example, what happens when your daughter wants to dress in the sexually suggestive style that is "in" at her school, or among her sports team, scouting, neighborhood, or youth group peers? What if your son is invited to a coed sleepover party (which are apparently becoming quite common, according to various newspaper articles) involving the popular crowd? 

Do you cave in to the peer pressure your child is facing, in order to help your child fit in socially? Even when you know your child's peers are leading your child astray? 

Unfortunately, many parents do so willingly, because they know the rules of the socialization game.

Long-term result of the accepted socialization process #5
Adults with a misguided philosophy regarding the purpose of having friends.

What is the purpose of having friends? The accepted socialization process teaches us that friends are needed to define who we are, and to validate—to us and to the world in general—that we are normal, acceptable, likeable, and not annoying, and that we therefore have value as human beings. 

Unfortunately, this misguided viewpoint persists well into adulthood. Marla Paul, the author of The Friendship Crisis, comments, "It's perfectly acceptable to be on the prowl for a man or partner, but you don't go announcing to the world that you're looking for a friend. Women fear we have some glaring personal flaw if we're not flanked by companions."

But friends—or a lack thereof—should NOT be definers or indicators of how acceptable we are to the world, or of our value as human beings. Instead, our Creator and our relationship with him should define who we truly are: 

We are God's highly valued sons and daughters, each created with a unique, God-given personality and giftings, and each of us loved by God for who we are, not for what we do. 

How great is the love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are! (1 John 3:1) 

So if friends aren't there to validate that we are normal and acceptable, then what are friends really for? Well, in my experience, friends make doing things more fun, whether it's a trip to the store, a meal at a new restaurant, or just chatting over a cup of coffee. A good friend provides a sounding board when you're trying to figure out a problem, commiserates with you when you're feeling down, and celebrates with you when good things happen to you. 

Photo courtesy of freedigitalphotos.net & stay2gether

A truly good friend helps you grow as a person, by speaking the truth in love to you when necessary, by encouraging you to be who God created you to be, and by encouraging you to do what God created you to do. There's a saying that nicely sums this up:

"A friend is someone who knows the song in your heart and sings it to you when you forget the words."

This is the type of friend I want all of my children to have when they grow up. And just as importantly, this is the type of friend I want all of my children to be when they grow up. But how to get there from here? Definitely not through the accepted socialization process.  

Click HERE to go to part 3 of this series.

Marlene Molewyk has homeschooled her five children for the past twelve years. Her career has included work as: a broadcast journalist for the NBC affiliate in Traverse City, Michigan; a production assistant for the Oprah Winfrey Show; and a corporate public relations manager for Ameritech.

Copyright 2010, Home Life, Inc., Fenton, MO, 800-346-6322, www.home-school.com. Originally published in Practical Homeschooling Magazine. Used by permission.



Popular Posts