Jan 12, 2018 in Sociology

Socialization of the So-Called Feral Children

Because of the social nature of humans, their interaction with one another has always been an important field of research. The twentieth century’s scientific efforts to study people’s behavior lead to a number of essential conclusions about the laws according to which most social processes function. Thus, the term socialization was coined to define the process when values, behavioral patterns, social norms, knowledge, and skills are adopted by individuals that determine their successful functioning as a member of society.

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Most commonly socialization is classified into primary and secondary. Primary socialization is related to those basic skills and patterns, which a child absorbs as a result of being born into and brought up in a family. This means that it is quite necessary for a child to go through socialization as a result of being exposed to family influence in order to survive in social environment in the future. It is often mentioned by researchers that because of a family’s crucial role in the primary socialization stereotypes and biased attitudes can be easily adopted without being analyzed. Thus for instance, if parents are prejudiced against a certain social group, children can take this attitude as a norm, which will further shape major social trends.


In contrast to the primary socialization, the secondary socialization does not cause such drastic transformation, yet it still plays an important role in an individual’s exposure to larger social groups. This usually happens when a child goes to school and thus faces a wider variety and more complex social patterns of interaction, which enables a child to become more socially adaptable. When discussing socialization, the term of agents of socialization is usually applied in order to describe individuals or generic groups that commonly affect people’s behaviour to shape certain patterns. Among typical agents of socialization are family, school, media and peer groups.

As has been mentioned above, family is the main agent of primary socialization because it is the first one to come into play when a child is still free of all norms and hence is most open to learning them. So, a whole range of skills and values are transferred by a family starting from language to religion. It has been proved not once that children copy their parent’s behaviour and mind at different levels; hence the role of the family is significant even though researchers do not have consensus on the overall mechanism that works as a transmitter of values. Thus, several models have been introduced to describe the major stages that family as socialization agent shapes in the course of a child’s upbringing. According to Erikson’s model of development, the following stages can be determined as effects of family socialization: “the development of trust, the development of independence, the tendency to take initiative, the sense of competence and ambition, decisions about who one is, relationships with others, decisions about future generations, reflections on one’s life” (Driscoll 2008). Each of these functions can be more or less developed depending on the situation in each particular family. Thus, for instance, one family can urge an individual’s ambition to achieve success in future, while another one can repress any initiative and contribute to a child’s low self-esteem. Thus, socialization is a complex sum total of sociological, biological and psychological factors, which function in a unique way each time. Besides, it should be noted that the influence of one or another factor is not linear in time, and can either be reinforced or weakened at a certain age or due to exposure of a group influence.

Peer groups are another crucial agent of socialization, which comes into play in a childhood and becomes especially influential in adolescence. As it is stated by researchers, an individual becomes exposed to this agent of socialization at the age of about three years old and then remains under its influence. It should be noted that peer groups are rather homogeneous in terms of their members’ belonging to approximately the same social layers, age, class and so on. It would be wrong to state that all agents of socialization work independently because they are closely interrelated. Thus, for example, even when young children communicate with their peers they are often watched and controlled by parents who direct their actions. In the course of time, the relations of agents change and certain skills are acquired: “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.”( Agents of Socialization). Even though these skills sound like those which are usually applied by adults in corporate environments, they are acquired in childhood through playing games. While family and peer groups are usually complementary at an early age, there appears confrontation in teen years, when the values of a family are often treated as opposing to peer group’s values. The patterns that peers show become dominant over family values, yet in the course of time the influence of the two agents is evened up as the process of maturing takes place.

Differential socialization is another dimension of socialization, which accounts for differences in roles and behaviour attributed to a particular gender. No doubt, there is a whole range of factors, or agencies, that determine how males and females interact and how their self-identity is shaped. Peer groups, family, schools, the mass media are among those agencies which influence gender socialization. It is remarkable that certain expectations are projected on children by parents even before they are born. Thus, for example, in many cultures boys are preferable, so parents are consciously or subconsciously affected by this trend. The more patriarchal a certain community is, the more visible is preference in favour of boys. Later on, when the gender is known, parents expect children to fit in certain masculine or feminine patterns of behaviour. It is also important, that these expectations are highly subjective, as an experiment with interviewing parents within the first twenty-four hours since their infants’ birth proves: “Both mothers and fathers of girls described their infants as little, beautiful, pretty, and cute more often than did parents of boys; parents of boys, on the other hand, were more likely to describe their infants as big. We find, then, that early sex-role expectations set in motion a complex pattern that creates in individuals the characteristics expected.”(Differential Socialization).

Resocialization is an important process that takes place in the course of a human’s life, which includes reconsidering norms and patterns once adopted and changing them for new ones. This mechanism is important for adults to be flexible to ever expanding reality and works as a way to survive and adapt while keeping ecologic set of values. Some experts have a different approach to resocialization, though, and see it in the context of social roles and switching between them: “Resocialization is the process by which existing social roles are radically altered or replaced. Roles such as spouse, parent, widow, prison inmate, and employee, for example, all involve a kind of resocialization. Erving Goffman defined resocialization as a process of tearing down and rebuilding an individual’s role and socially constructed sense of self” (Crossman)

The case study analysis deals with the socialization of the so-called feral children compared to normal development in the typical social environment. The case shows that despite the fact that many of features that a human has are genetic, nurture is a crucial element of an individual’s development. Thus, the two girls who were raised by wolves, Amala and Kamala were devoid of many skills that ordinary children had at their age. Instead, the mechanism of copying the behavior and adjusting to the environment led to development of those skills which are not typical for humans. For example, the girls could see well in the dark, they had a well developed sense of smell, were very physically strong and resistant to cold and heat. These skills demonstrate that first of all, people develop those abilities which are necessary to survive in a certain environment. In fact, those abilities are developed which are trained and practiced most. Secondly, the mechanism of replication that is inherent in human mind was revealed in the idea that since their early years the children absorbed and copied behavior patterns typical for wolves rather than humans. The case also demonstrates how the first years of life are crucial in socialization process, because it appeared that resocialization of the girls was very complicated and next to impossible. It took years to acquire some of human skills but it was impossible to expect full rehabilitation. It is also remarkable that the girls demonstrated no visible emotions apart from fear and grief to some extent. This proves the fact that infants acquire the ability to feel a wide range of emotions in the environment of other humans who are able to share them. Thus, emotionality appears to be a nurtured rather than an inborn attribute of humans and an important part of socialization.

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