What is Primary Socialization?

By Charlotte Nickerson, published Sept 08, 2022 | Fact Checked by Saul Mcleod, PhD


Primary socialization is the process by which an individual learns the basic values, norms, and behaviors that are expected of them by their society. It usually takes place during childhood and is mainly achieved through the family and education system.

Primary socialization occurs between the child and those people in their life with whom they have a close, personal, and intimate face-to-face relationship.

For most people, the first primary relationships they form are with their parents, siblings, grandparents, and other family members. The family provides children with a sense of moral values, teaching the difference between right and wrong behavior, and how to relate appropriately to others (family, friends, strangers, etc.).

As children get older, they start forming primary attachments with friends and then with other adults through things like marriage, work, etc.

What are the agents of primary socialization?

There are several agents of primary socialization, including family members, caregivers, and in some cases (if a child is extremely young), teachers and peers. 

Any influence that spends significant amounts of time around a baby or toddler can be considered an agent of primary socialization.

The most significant of these, in general, is the family. It is through the family that children learn about their culture and values. Families provide a sense of security and support, which are essential for healthy development.

Family can consist of any formation, ranging from young children living with their biological parents to those raised by adoptive guardians.

How does the family socialize the young?

Socialization is a lifelong process that occurs from birth on. This form of socialization specifically encompasses  the period of infancy and childhood, when the foundations for future social behavior are laid. It is during this time that children learn how to communicate, interact with others, and develop a sense of self-identity.

Socialization cannot happen if an infant is completely isolated.  Agents of socialization can show children how to behave in many ways. They can do so directly: Parents can ‘thank you' to teach a baby politeness, or apply corporal punishment when they misbehave.

Parents usually have more control over their children's environment than anyone else does. For example, they can choose what books they read, what TV shows they watch, and who their friends are.

However, it is important not to see children as passive recipients of information, but instead as active participants in the creation of their own identity. Children are constantly making choices about what kind of person to become.

Parents play an important role in helping children to choose the right path. But parents cannot force their children to behave in certain ways. Instead, parents should help children to understand why they should behave in particular ways.

It is important to note that socialization does not occur in a vacuum.  There are many factors that can influence how children are socialized. These include race, social class, religion, and other societal factors.

Poor families tend to prioritize obedience and conformity when raising their children, while rich families, on the other hand, emphasize discernment and innovation. (Smith, Marsden, Hout, & Kim, 2012)).

Research has shown that the family is one of the most important agents of socialization. For example, children who have supportive and involved parents are less likely to engage in adolescent drinking behaviors than those who did not have such support (Barnes, Farrell, & Cairns, 1986).

Is school primary or secondary socialization?

In most cases, school is an instance of secondary socialization. This is because children have already been socialized by their families and peer groups before they start school. However, there are some ways in which school can be considered primary socialization.

For example, if a child came from an absent family, or was put in a school or daycare when they were an infant or toddler, a school-like institution may influence primary socialization (Whitbeck, 1999).

Can primary socialization be provided by anyone other than the family?

While primary socialization is most notably carried out by family members, there is an array of other potential primary socializers. These can include babysitters, nannies, daycare providers, and even older siblings.

In some cases, the media may also serve as a primary socializer, especially if children are exposed to television or other screens at a very young age.

Ultimately, any individual or institution that plays a significant role in shaping a child's early experiences could be considered a primary socializer (Whitbeck, 1999).

What's the difference between primary and secondary socialization?

Primary socialization refers to the ways in which children learn about their culture and become acclimated to society. It is mainly influenced by the family and takes place in the home.

Secondary socialization occurs later in life and is shaped by one's peer groups, teachers, bosses, and other forces outside of the family. It helps individuals refine the skills they learned during primary socialization and adapt to new environments and roles (BTEC).

What do functionalists think about socialization?

Social structural functionalists, such as Talcott Parsons, view socialization as a process where the values and norms of society are agreed upon by all members of society because people in societies have a social contract which protects people from one another and keeps society stable and balanced.

Without primary socialization, people would not know how to behave in an appropriate way and there would be chaos.

Functionalists argue that the family is the most important institution when it comes to primary socialization, as it is here that children learn the basic values and norms of society.

The family provides love, security and stability, which are all essential for healthy development (Bales & Parsons, 2014).

About the Author

Charlotte Nickerson is a member of the Class of 2024 at Harvard University. Coming from a research background in biology and archaeology, Charlotte currently studies how digital and physical space shapes human beliefs, norms, and behaviors and how this can be used to create businesses with greater social impact.

Fact Checking

Content is rigorously reviewed by a team of qualified and experienced fact checkers. Fact checkers review articles for factual accuracy, relevance, and timeliness. We rely on the most current and reputable sources, which are cited in the text and listed at the bottom of each article. Content is fact checked after it has been edited and before publication.

This article has been fact checked by Saul Mcleod, a qualified psychology teacher with over 17 years' experience of working in further and higher education. He has been published in psychology journals including Clinical Psychology, Social and Personal Relationships, and Social Psychology.

Cite this Article (APA Style)

Nickerson, C. (2022, Sept 08). What is Primary Socialization?. Simply Sociology. https://simplysociology.com/primary-socialisation.html

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