Social Development: Meaning, Agents, Trends of Psychosocial Development and Educational Implications…


Social Development: Meaning, Agents, Trends of Psychosocial Development and Educational Implications…

A common adage has it that “no man is an island entirely on his own or to himself”. This statement summarizes the fact that human beings are social animals. We live in a community of human relationships.

Although from infancy it appears everyone strives to carve for themselves a unique personal identity of self, any individual’s uniqueness is a product of their interactions with other selves in a social environment. We all share the awareness that somehow human beings inter-depend on one another for meaningful living. The unique qualities that make us human are acquired through social interaction in the family, and other social systems. We discuss the meaning of socialisation, and agents of socialisation. We examine the pattern of psychosocial development. We will also examine the educational significance of social development.

At the end of page, you should be able to:

· Define Socialisation

· List and describe the key agents of socialisation

· Outline the pattern of social development

· Discuss the educational importance of social development.


Meaning of Socialization

Socialisation is the process by which the child acquires the ability to behave in socially acceptable ways or in accordance with social expectations. Socialisation entails the following:

· Learning to behave in socially approved ways. This may mean modelling behaviours that are appropriate for different social settings.

· Playing approved social roles, for example, playing appropriate gender role, child role, student role, or even parental role.

· Developing appropriate social attitudes. This may involve learning various display rules that guide social acceptance or rejection as may be appropriate. Socialisation is involved in social development. That is, socialization explains the way in which individual’s interactions with others and their social relationships grow, change, and remain stable over the course of life.

The process of socialisation may produce three categories of people, namely:

(i) Pro-social People: Pro-social people are persons whose behaviour pattern conforms with group expectations and norms. They are fully accepted within the membership of the social group.

(ii) Unsocial People: These are persons whose behaviour pattern falls short of social expectations. Their behaviour is nonconforming.

They are therefore, rejected within the social group they wish to identify with, the social expectation owing to their own ignorance of what is acceptable behaviour.

(iii) Anti-social People: Anti-social persons know what the acceptable pattern of behaviour is. However, because they are antagonistic to group norms, they willingly violate group expectations. They are usually rejected among the group they wish to identify with. Socialisation may be achieved through any of the three ways: A child may become socialised through modelling the behaviour of parents or significant others. If parents are law-abiding and respectful of constituted authority, their children may model their behaviour and be law-abiding as well. On the other hand, if parents are rebellious, play public hypocrisy or take liberties with the law, their children may also model their anti-social behaviour.

A child may also become socialised through contingency management.

This is a system of rewarding a child for obeying rules, and withholds reward when rules are broken. In other words, rewards for ruler and regulated behaviour can get children to conform to rules even in the larger society. By the same token, parents who reward rule breaking behaviours of children should expect anti-social behaviours from those children.

Children may also become socialised through social cognition. As children’s maturation increases, their cognitive abilities also expand; so they begin to understand display rules that guide social actions.

Learning of display rules is facilitated by social referencing. In this way, children begin to understand intensions behind specific actions and they pattern their behaviour accordingly.


Agents of Socialization

Children’s relationships with parents, family members, peers, friends, teachers, mentors, and others in the various social systems that they (the children) are exposed to can profoundly affect their social development.

Social development is neither simple nor automatic, but it is crucial the bonds that grow between the child and the parents, family, and other significant persons provide the foundation for a lifetime’s social relationships. We classify the important sources of socialization into three social agents: primary, secondary and tertiary social groups.

(a) The Primary Socialisation Agent: The family is the primary socialisation agent and the seat of learning for social skills. The family is the source of nurturance, warmth, contact comfort, security and trust. There are the ingredients that engender the child’s initial affectional bonding. Human beings generally like those who provide and care for them. Thus, prosocial and unsocial patterns of behaviour are established during the early formative years in the family.

Early social experiences significantly influence what sort of adults children grow to become. The critical factors in the family that influence social development include: the family demographic characteristics, the child-rearing practices, and provision of specific experiences at home.

 Family Demographic Characteristics

Parents with more education are more likely than less-educated parents to believe that parental involvement in the child’s education is important. Educated parents are more likely also to actively provide intellectually stimulating experiences and materials at home (Schneider and Coleman, 1993). When parents’ time and energy are largely consumed by attention to parents’ other concerns or people other than the child, then the child’s social development suffers. Living in a single-parent family, having parents who are consumed by their work, and living in an over-crowded family can undercut children’s development.

Child-rearing Practices

child-rearing practices impact greatly on a child’s social development. The critical aspects of the child-rearing practices relate to the following:

· Parents knowing enough about the child to provide the right amount of challenge and support, and to have realistic expectation from the child.

· Parents providing positive emotional climate to motivate the child to internalize parents’ values and goals.

· Parents’ modelling motivated achievement behaviour, including working hard and persisting with effort at challenging tasks.

· Parents adopting a firm, consistent discipline style that encourages the child to internalise the values of discipline and achieve self control.

Provision of Specific Experiences at Home

Specific experiences at home that will positively influence social development may include:

· Talking to and with the child.

· Explaining nuances, display rules, and other non-verbal gestures that guide social intercourse.

· Allowing the child to go out and explore the world rather than “imprisoning” the child in the house in the name of protection.

In all, satisfactory relationship with family members encourages children to strive to develop and enjoy fruitful social relationships with people outside the home. It helps children to develop healthy attitude toward people, and to learn to function effectively in peer associations.

(b) The Secondary Socialisation Agent: The secondary socialisation agent is defined as the social groups outside the home whom the child has continuous social contact with on a daily basis. They include: the peers, organised playgroups, school clubs, classmates, the teacher, the church members and members of the neighbourhood. Throughout childhood, the child spends significant amount of working hours with members of this social group. These groups outside the home encourage the child in their desire to gain independence from the parents and the family. The peer group and the teacher impact greater influence on social development among the other secondary socialisation agents.

The Peers

In child development, peers are children about the same age or maturity level. Same age peer interaction plays a unique role. Peers provide avenues for social comparison, and social competence training through peer co-learning and peer influence. According to Eccles, Wigfield and Schiefele (1998), positive social comparison usually results in higher self-esteem, while negative social comparison results in lower selfesteem.

Children who are accepted by their peers and who have good social skills often do better in school (Wentzel, 1996). Children who are rejected by peers, especially those who are more aggressive, are usually at risk in a number of school-related activities. For example, they obtain low grades, and often dropout of school.

The Teacher

Children who have negative interactions with a number of their teachers do not do well in school. They do not pay attention; do not complete assignments on schedule; and generally act out in the class. In general, school is an unpleasant place for such children.

Generally speaking, the school should not be an unpleasant place for any child. According to Noddings (1992:2001), children are most likely to develop into competent human beings when they feel cared for. Teachers are invited to develop the skill of knowing the children under the care fairly well. Indeed, children get to know that a teacher cares for them. They report that those teachers who care for them talk to the individual child. A teacher who cares listens; pays attention; is honest and fair to all; seeks to know each child’s problems; addresses them by their names; and makes effort to make the class interesting. On the other hand, the teacher who does not care for the children teaches in a boring way; he keeps talking even when the children are not paying attention; he ignores and embarrasses children; he forgets their names; and does nothing when a child does something wrong.

In essence, the social climate of the entire school impacts significantly on children’s social development. We often talk about the school tone.

The tone of the school refers to the general spirit, character, morale, and social climate of the school. When the tone of the school is excellent, it is supportive to the general developmental needs of the children.

Children are motivated and challenged to develop self-control through identification with and internalisation of the school values and norms. Children learn to get along well with others without external force.

(c) The Tertiary Socialisation Agent: The tertiary socialisation agent includes groups the child has fleeting contacts with. They are generally transitory – people the child may have contact with on their way to school, church, or market; contact in magazines and newspaper; contact on radio, television, internet, and the World Wide Web. The strength of influence these groups have on social development will largely depend on type of presentation, sensual appeal or attraction, and the contrasting theme with what the child ordinarily encounters. The television and the cyberspace stand out among these groups.

The Television and the Cyberspace

In Nigeria today, the television has become a ubiquitous household item.

In rural communities, households that are so impoverished they do not have a toilet facility own television sets. In highly urbanised areas such as Lagos, families that cannot not afford a rented apartment, but are squatters in uncompleted buildings and kiosks own television sets.

Television viewing is a valued pastime for children and adults alike in Nigeria.

It may be true that the television, the Internet, and the World Wide Web are among the great frontiers of high technology. People predict that they will change the lives of everybody in the global village. However, educators are regarding these untamed information media with great caution. This is more so with regard to their effect on children’s social development.

Children have increasingly become targets for all manner of advertisement and pornography on television screens, and the Internet.

Educators worry about the extent to which parents are able to monitor children’s television viewing, and their hook-on to the internet. The type, quality and educational value of what children view on the television are sources of concern. The type of materials and information children access on the internet, and the person(s) with whom they enter into personal interactive sessions are major sources of concern. Of no less concern also is the amount of time children spend on these ubiquitous media of uncertain consequences.

Some issues relating to children’s access to information and communication technological media are not contentious. For example, in many homes, children spend more time watching the television than talking to adults or parents, playing with siblings, attending school or working on class assignments. Research findings suggest that young children do not fully understand the plots of the stories they view on the home video. Most children are not able to recall significant details of the stories they have viewed. Very often, the inferences children make about the motivations of the key characters in the stories they have viewed are limited, if not completely wrong. Also, children have difficulty separating fantasy from reality in television programmes. In summary, the consequences of children viewing television so much are not quite clear. Parents are therefore cautioned about the potential hazards existing in children’s unfettered or untamed access to television and home computers. The direction of their impact on children’s social development is not very clear.

Trends in Psychosocial Development

Social development starts at infancy and continues across the entire lifespan. This theory considers how the children come to understand themselves, and the meaning of their behaviour and the behaviour of others.

Erikson’s theory explains how society and culture present challenges that shape the child’s social behaviour. According to the theory, social developmental changes may be conceived as a series of eight stages.

Each stage presents a developmental task or a crisis. Each stage crisis is a turning point with positive and negative poles. The individual is expected to resolve each stage crisis. The more successful a child is in the resolution of a stage crisis, the more psychologically healthy the child will be. Unsuccessful resolution of a stage crisis leads to pathology. Pathology means that the individual finds it increasingly difficult to deal with the demands of the next stage of development. In other words, unsuccessful resolution of a stage crisis leads the individual to be more prone to maladjustment and behaviour problems. We outline below the first five stages of Erikson’s theory. The first five stages cover social development from infancy, through childhood, to adolescence.


Erikson’s Stages

Stage One – Trust versus Mistrust

Erikson’s first stage of psychosocial development occurs in the first year of a child’s life – that is, during infancy. The development of basic trust requires warm, nurturant caregiving. The positive outcome is a feeling of comfort and minimal fear. Basic mistrust develops if the infant is deprived of nurturant and contact comfort.

Stage Two – Autonomy versus Shame and Doubt

The second stage of psychosocial development occurs between late infancy and toddler years, that is, the second year of life. After gaining trust in their caregivers, children begin to move freely, and explore the immediate environment. They begin to discover that their behaviour is their own. They start to assert their independence, and to realise their will. Caregivers might mistake this and interpret the child’s actions as stubbornness. If infants are restrained too much or punished too harshly, they develop a sense of shame and doubt.

Stage Three – Initiative versus Guilt

This stage is the early childhood or pre-school years, ages 3 to 5. Young children begin to explore the neighbourhood. Their social world begins to widen. Children experience more challenges as they strive to know more about their widening social circle. In order to cope with these challenges, children engage in more active and purposeful behaviour.

Children begin to insist on doing their own things. For example, at this stage, children begin insisting on bathing themselves, putting on their dresses, their shoes, combing their hair, and even washing their clothes.

They want to be responsible to themselves.

Developing a sense of responsibility increases children’s initiative. If children are thwarted in their efforts at caring for themselves, and made to feel that they are not yet capable of being responsible for their bodies and their belongings, they feel discomfort. They begin to develop guilt feelings.

Stage Four – Industry versus Inferiority

This stage corresponds to middle and late childhood or the elementary school years (between 6 years and puberty or early adolescence). The sense of initiative developed at the earlier stage brings children in contact with greater wealth of practical experience with tools and people. Children’s energy is now directed toward mastery of knowledge and intellectual skills. Children, at this stage, show great enthusiasm for learning. Their imagination is expansive. The negative polarity for this stage is the danger of developing a sense of inferiority, unproductiveness, and incompetence. This may happen if the primary school experience lacks intellectual challenge.

Stage Five – Identity versus Identity Confusion

This stage corresponds to the adolescent years (between 10 and 20 years). Adolescents want to answer questions like: Who am I? What is life about? Who am I going to become?

The adolescents are confronted with many new roles to explore. These include: gender role (being a man or a woman), romantic role, vocational role, and a definitive outlook on life. They seek to gain a healthy self identity. If adolescents do not have adequate opportunity to explore these different roles, they may develop confused identity.


Educational Implications of Social Development

The educational implications of socialisation to social development include the following:

· Behaving in socially appropriate and responsible ways is valued in its own right as an important educational objective. The development of citizenship skills and other important life skills such as cooperation, communication, self-care, and home making is entrenched as an objective of education in the national policy on education (Federal Republic of Nigeria, 2004).

· Social responsible behaviour helps to create a classroom climate conducive for instruction and learning.

· Anti-social behaviour can be highly detrimental to classroom learning by distracting students from academic activities.

· Social conduct impacts teacher’s preference for students, which in turn influences the quality of instructional exchanges.

· Children tend to dislike classmates who start fights and break rules. Therefore, school children who display anti-social behaviours are at disadvantage in reaping the benefits of peer colearning.

· Children who display anti-social behaviours are more likely to be labeled disabled academically.


Children acquire the unique qualities that make them social beings through a social process. This process ensures that the child lives the life they are immersed in. the social forces playing out in the family and other social agents are replicated in the lives of children.

After going through this unit, you must have come to the awareness that the way significant adults act in public and even in private impacts on children’s behaviour. The dictum that when the mother cow chews cord, the young watches its mouth is very true of social development.

You, as a caregiver, are sensitised to model pro-social and goal-oriented behaviours for children to emulate.

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