Outline & Evaluate the importance of the family in the socialisation process 
Socialisation by the family continues for as long as an individual has a family, but is probably most important during the stages of primary socialisation. This starts at birth and continues until a child reaches school age. Up to this point, the family are the main (and in some cases, the only) significant influence on a child’s life.
The family socialise children in a variety of ways. They are responsible for teaching the basic norms and values of everyday life – for example, how and when to eat, move, go to the toilet etc. – as well as providing our first introduction to our society’s culture, through the language used, the traditions passed on and the clothes/toys given. They use positive and negative sanctions (e.g. rewards and punishments) to reinforce socially acceptable behaviour and provide children with their first role models. This can set the scene for all future socialisation, laying the foundations of an individual’s identity.
One of the most important influences the family has is in reinforcing gender roles. Sociologists believe that gender is socially constructed, meaning that there are no biologically determined ways a person should behave, based on their sex. This social construction starts within the family. For example, if a child sees their father going out to work every day and their mother staying at home to cook, clean and look after them, this could impact how the child later considers gender roles in family life.
Anne Oakley believed that parents also socialise children into gender roles through four processes, which she calls manipulation (encouraging behaviour seen as ‘normal’ for the sex), canalisation (channelling children’s interests into gender-specific items and activities), verbal appellations (using gendered language) and different activities (encouraging girls and boys to be involved in different activities to one another). So, for example, a son might be bought toy guns and tool kits, encouraged towards competitive sports and rough play, referred to as ‘brave boy’ and ‘little soldier’ and given more freedom outdoors. His sister may be bought a toy doll and kitchen, encouraged towards taking care of her appearance, called ‘little princess’ and be more restricted to household tasks.
Primary socialisation by the family can also determine other aspects of an individual’s identity. For example, the language spoken at home, the food eaten, the values instilled and the traditions adhered to can create ethnic identity. Some sociologists even argue that social class identities can be created through early family experiences such as mealtime rituals and the amount of time devoted to children by parents.
Overall, the family could be argued to be the most influential agent of socialisation because it is the first influence and therefore the one that sets the scene for everything to follow. However, it can be argued that social changes are threatening the dominance of the family during primary socialisation: Childminders, nurseries and the mass media (via channels like CBeebies) are increasingly becoming key agents of primary socialisation. Some sociologists may also argue that what happens in the family can become undone later in life by other agents of socialisation, particularly peer groups who can replace the role of the family once a child starts school.
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