From infancy to adolescence, we help our children engage and interact first with us and other family members and then their peers, their peer’s parents, and eventually varied people of different ages in school life. I begin with infancy because understanding this very early development is helpful to later understand the preparation for socialization in school life.
The infant actually interacts with significant parents from the first minute on. They are naturally social. They remember the voice of their mother in utero and learn a new voice of a mother if they are adopted.
This first familiar voice is the beginning of socialization. Infants are very attentive to facial expression and recognition in their early months. They seek communion with those who care for them.
By four months in particular the baby becomes more engaged and yearns to relate to others. Then as the months proceed, we notice a personality more specifically forming that may be quite outgoing or more reserved.
Throughout that first year, it’s so important that the baby feels enjoyed by us which lets the baby know he or she is loveable and accepted as he or she is in their beginning connection with the outside world.
This early development of a core self that is acceptable prepares the child to enter preschool.
Socialization of children in the United States
In the United States, extroverts seem to be seen as the premium personality in school life, but this is misleading to parents and kids alike.
The extrovert may first appear to be the one who will become the leader, the spokesperson at various ages, the first to raise her hand in class, and even rate high on popularity. But these are not correct conclusions.
Introverts similarly make great leaders, are very successful and creative in school life, enjoyed by their peers and others, and make their mark in very important ways in our school culture.
With this in mind, lets define our language: socialization, introversion, extroversion.
In the broadest terms, socialization is:
- to acquaint the child outside the home in the school environment to feel comfortable with the “norms” of our society.
- to prepare them to participate in group life in school by understanding others’ expectations.
- at best to create the facility to relate and get along with others by learning to respect, listen, and care about their own voices and those of others.
Norms are of course quite variable but if we don’t get too particular and can include the following essentials, we will be in a healthy socialized ballpark.
- learn to generally recognize right from wrong which gets more and more involved beginning at about two years old and then progressively as we get older and establish values that become more distinct and complex first in childhood in school and at home, then in adolescence, and beyond;
- learn to share beginning in preschool with objects or toys and proceed in complexity as children get older sharing thoughts through written and spoken language;
- learn to empathize which begins about three and four years old as children begin to recognize not only do they have minds with thoughts, ideas, opinions, intentions, and feelings, but others also have minds that may or not be in accord with one’s own, yet are considered and respected.
With these three complex but important concepts, we are on the right track for healthy socialization in school.
In classrooms (and in corporations) a popular method of working has become something called cooperative or small group learning and exploration of ideas.
In many elementary schools the traditional rows of seats facing the teacher have been shifted to pods of four or more desks or a table to facilitate group learning and a cooperative sharing of ideas.
Even subjects such as math or creative writing that would seem to depend on individual or solo flights of thought, are increasingly done in group activities.
To participate well under these circumstances, you need to be someone who speaks up well and calls attention to oneself rather easily. This is a classroom skill that leads to include some and exclude others regardless of their intelligence, creativity, insight, or general merit.
Further, it highlights aspirations that may begin early in school life to be a leader which not everyone aspires to or values as a personal goal. It also suggests that the best ideas will come from collaboration not a solo achievement in the classroom.
Let’s define the extrovert. Simply stated an extrovert is an outgoing and overtly expressive individual. Usually, the extrovert is energized by being around other people. This works well in group school life.
The industrious extroverted school child is willing and desirous of doing their homework but prefers to do so in the kitchen while their parent is cooking rather than isolated at a desk in their room. They like the company.
Similarly, you might also want to think of the adult corporate worker that the child may become. Let’s say this person is industrious enjoys chatting with her colleagues throughout the day either socially or focused on work tasks, and again enjoys being stimulated by others’ personalities and minds.
Let’s define the introvert. The introvert on google is in my view mistakenly defined as a shy and reticent person. But everyone who likes to work alone is neither necessarily shy which has a pejorative feel nor actually reticent in school.
When introverts have something to say or contribute in class, they do and may do so easily. They just don’t prize others’ involvement when they first think through new ideas. Yet they are open to others’ points of view in their own time, socializing with others in school.
I say these notions of shyness or reticence are misleading because of what they imply.
They suggest the child is restrained, uncomfortable with others and holds back due to this personality trait. I say this is misleading because many introverts like to first go directly to what is challenging them on their own where they do their most advanced thinking before they hear others’ thoughts. This is true for children and adults alike.
They don’t seek majority opinions as the most favorable (thus, worry about peer pressure) which may exclude original thinkers and they aren’t competing for who tells the most first in class. They are just energized differently than the extrovert.
Imagine, for example, two siblings who have an engineer for a father. This father is an expert at figuring all kinds of things out not only for his large company but even in his own home.
So his kids, two brothers, are exposed early on to how things are put together, a wide range of tools many adults are never exposed to, and the excitement of creating and designing new ideas that can be implemented in real ways, like even building a deck with steel rods and wood.
Perhaps genetically these kids have brains like their father and take to physics and mathematics easily. They are curious early on about why a rainbow is curved and why gravity holds them down on earth. Hopefully, their teachers respond well to such original questions even if they are not commonly heard. Other kids surely will benefit as well.
So, these brothers seem alike, equally fortunate to have such a role model who enjoys learning, as well as, substantial brain power of their own that stimulates achievement.
However, these two boys may in fact be very different both at home and in the classroom. They are both willing to work with their father and love his interests (and him!) Similarly, they will respond well to an open-minded creative teacher.
But one brother likes to work with his father all the time. He’s not reluctant to do tasks, even chores, but likes to be in his father’s company. At school he likes working closely with others although because his interests are so well-developed, he might have to be placed in an enriched group.
His brother also enjoys working with his father but prefers to create and think in solitude. This does not mean he is a hermit holed up in his room on the computer or with his Legos though you’d think he’s a magician with those Legos very, very early on! He has friends. But maybe two close friends rather than a circle of peers, doesn’t like team sports, and enjoys his own company not only for its own sake but because he has his most creative thoughts under those conditions.
He participates well in school but may wait to make his contribution by raising his hand until after he has thought out his own ideas silently on his own before offering them.
Is he being socialized? Absolutely. Does he need the company or even audience his brother craves? No. It’s not his thing.
Beginning Summation of Socialization in School Life
In sum, the effect of social interaction on happiness and achievement is not absolute in or out of the classroom.
It doesn’t necessarily reinforce the values of right and wrong, the ability to share objects and ideas according to a certain time frame, or the ability to empathize with others effectively with peers at school.
Both introverts and extroverts can happily meet all these characteristics of healthy socialization well and should be encouraged to do so in school where they spend a large part of each day.
In brief, social interaction does not predict performance or even the love of learning or indeed, happiness.
Should schools stress learning vis-à-vis socialization? Let’s look to the results for the adults they could grow up to be.
Adults have learned through experimentation that open-plan offices have been discovered to reduce productivity and even impair memory. They have been linked to high staff turnover. They may even make people sick more often, sometimes hostile, unmotivated, and of great human importance—insecure.
Introvert or Extrovert?
Neither is better or best. Many studies will point to the high level of achievement of introverts early on. Wondering about how the growing up years lead to the adult years, a great case in point is the brilliant and generous Bill Gates, known as an introvert.
Bill Clinton, also a brilliant man, a charismatic leader, and social influencer despite his well-known social errors, is clearly an extrovert. People light up in his presence and are energized by his well-merited achievements and charm.
I’m excluding morality from this discussion of these two men who I chose as examples only because I’m not an expert on their early school life and I’ve never met them personally to be a real judge of their character but because they will be well-known to you, my reader, and clarify examples of introversion and extroversion so I’m referring to them.
Maybe you are now thinking of other and even better examples. I hope so.
Both, however, do socialize well as adults which may speak to their early classroom experiences, are leaders, and have chosen a life that values their minds abilities to think with creativity, originality, and focus.
As amazing as this seems, infants, children, and adolescents are aware they have minds. Hopefully the school teachers and administrative staff value these kids disparate minds, applaud them individually, as well as in social groups.
Socialization and social interaction are important and valuable in our society to enjoy and live with others comfortably, especially in school life.
But there is no better avenue: introversion or extroversion.
Each has merits, each is an individual choice that may change as we grow, and of most importance, each is and should be viewed as acceptable.
I use the word acceptable with great purpose.
We all need to accept ourselves and feel that acceptance from others. This needs to be a primary goal of socialization in school highly regarded by the teachers our kids spend hours with hoping to be liked and enjoyed by them as they learn. If they feel this in school, grade after grade, teacher after teacher, it will reinforce self-acceptance.
Ultimately, this is socialization at its finest.