Parental Socialization

Because of significant stability in aggressive behavior (discussed earlier this chapter), most recent published discussions about social learning and violence emphasize sophisticated long-t erm interactive effects between experience and behavior. Bandura (1971) proposed that aggressive behavior is learned and maintained through environmental experiences, reinforcements and punishments (experienced or vicarious), just like any other behavior. Recent authors emphasize trajectories of antisocial behavior which are “... initiated, maintained, and diversified as a result of cumulative daily social experiences with parents, siblings, and peers that are highly aversive, inconsistent, and unsupportive” (Snyder et al., 2003, p. 31). Parents of aggressive children sometimes fail to punish aggression and reinforce good behavior. Parental actions are also reinforced by their children’s behavior in a bidirectional dynamic (Hodges, Card, & Isaacs, 2003). Further, interactions between parents and children exist in the context of a particular social class or culture along a dimension of ongoing maturation in which new social environments and activities are encountered over time. Thus aggression learned in childhood is thought to have a profound and long-term effect on aggression over the life course.

It is widely believed that parents and caregivers are the key socializing agents in early life and throughout much of childhood. For children, parents are a very important locus of socialization. The family is the primary mechanism for teaching norms and values, which parents instill using a variety of techniques that require monitoring of behavior, and acting to reinforce good behavior and punish bad behavior (Brannigan & King, 1982). However, other aspects of the relationship play important roles. For example, Hodges et al. (2003) point out that warm parents can reinforce desired behavior with warmth and can withdraw warmth as a punishment. Unloving parents do not have this tool. We propose that relationships between children and their caregivers affect many fundamental processes linked to healthy behavioral development. The processes that we see as likely to be influenced by parenting, and, at the same time, important for reducing the chances of violence include the establishment of social bonds, and the development of self-esteem, trust, positive emotionality, appropriate emotional expression, emotion regulation, theory of mind, and prosocial cognitive styles. Characteristics of parent-child relationships thought to be important in the socialization of these developmental processes include attachment relationships, parental warmth (or rejection), and exposure to harsh parenting.

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