In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Socialization and Parent-Child Dynamics

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • The Role of Parents
  • Historical Influences on Parent-Child Socialization
  • Parental Dimensions and Styles
  • Parental Control and Compliance
  • Parental Guidance and Internalization
  • Relational Perspectives
  • Contextual Perspectives
  • Ecological Perspectives
  • Reinterpretation of Socialization: The Role of Children
  • Child Effects on Parenting
  • Children’s Biology and Socialization
  • Children as Agents in Socialization
  • Bidirectional Models of Socialization
  • Socialization and Development
  • The Developing Child and Socialization
  • Child Effects on Parents’ Resocialization and Adult Development
  • Culture and Parenting

Related Articles Expand or collapse the "related articles" sectionabout

Forthcoming Articles Expand or collapse the "forthcoming articles" section

Childhood Studies Socialization and Parent-Child Dynamics
Leon Kuczynski
  • LAST REVIEWED: 11 January 2024
  • LAST MODIFIED: 11 January 2024
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199791231-0035


Socialization is the process by which children are prepared to become successful members of society. This requires the acquisition of skills, behavior patterns, ideas, and values needed for competent functioning in the society in which a child is growing up. More broadly, socialization is the process by which culture is transmitted or reproduced in each new generation. Socialization is a lifelong process of change that not only encompasses the various stages of childhood from infancy to adolescence but also continues throughout adulthood. There are many causal agents in the socialization process, including family members, peers, ecological setting, social institutions such as schools and religions, and print and digital media. This article will focus on socialization processes occurring in the context of parent-child relationships. Influence processes occurring between parents and children have long been considered as the first and most important locus of socialization that lays the foundations for later changes as the child interacts with the wider world. Socialization in the context of the family has been a topic of scientific research from across the human sciences since the early twentieth century. Historically, there have been two divergent theoretical perspectives on socialization, a unidirectional perspective that considers parents as the principal causal agent in the socialization process and a bidirectional perspective that includes the active role of children not only in their own socialization but also of their parents. The earliest and still-dominant perspective guiding socialization research is characterized by terms such as “intergenerational transmission,” “parenting,” “parental practices,” and “child-rearing” and focuses on the parent’s role in the socialization of children. In this traditional view, children are blank slates who enter a social world with preexisting meanings, values, and expectations, and the role of parents was to teach or transmit this cultural knowledge to children. The implication for theory was that parents were viewed as active causal agents and children are considered as passive recipients and mere outcomes in the socialization process. The implication for empirical research is that most empirical studies focus on the products of socialization—correlations between parental variables conceived as causes and child variables conceived as outcomes. Beginning in the 1960s, scholars in disciplines such as psychology, sociology, and anthropology began to criticize the traditional view as simplistic, static, and overly deterministic. In developmental psychology, this critique focused on recognizing the active role of children not only in their own development but also on the lives of parents. In the current era, interest in the active role of children have been subsumed in dynamic bidirectional, transactional, and relational models emphasizing parents and children both as agents and sources of mutual influence in a lifelong process of socialization. This article introduces readers to the vast topic of socialization in the context of parent-child relationships. This is a complex literature reflecting not only differences in theory but also a growing knowledge of the dynamics of parent-child relationships and the complexity of parenting for the optimal socialization of children. The focus is on the process underlying socialization rather than its products and outcomes. We begin with an overview of general sources to the topic. Next, we look at classic and modern perspectives that emphasize the parents’ role in influencing and shaping children. The next section considers critiques of the traditional parent-to-child view of socialization and examines research and theory on children as influential agents in the socialization and attempts to incorporate children’s influence as part as a bidirectional causal model. These perspectives on process are important because they implicitly and explicitly shape the way researchers and practitioners think about parents and children, the way researchers frame their questions about socialization, and the resultant nature of the empirical literature. Also in this article are sections on developmental change in socialization processes, children’s effects on parents’ adult socialization, and the cultural context of child-rearing.

General Overviews

The first wave of literature was conducted from traditional or unidirectional perspectives, and this perspective was well represented in the first major handbook on socialization, Goslin 1969. The most comprehensive treatment of socialization covering recent theoretical perspectives and reviews of empirical research on a wide range of topics is Grusec and Hastings 2015. Research on topics relevant to socialization can also be found in edited handbooks of parenting research including Bornstein 2019, Kuczynski 2003, and Morris and Smith 2023. A recent authoritative textbook, Holden 2021, provides a useful overview of parenting theories and research for beginning scholars.

  • Bornstein, Marc H., ed. Handbook of Parenting. Vol. 5, The Practice of Parenting. 3d ed. New York and Abingdon, UK: Routledge, 2019.

    This recent edited volume describes studies on parenting outcomes and practices primarily reflecting a parent-to-child causal perspective. Included are chapters reviewing research on outcomes such as children’s self-regulation, discipline, prosocial and moral development, and resilience as well as children’s language, play, cognitive development, and academic achievement. Other chapters include parental guidance and management of external contexts of socialization including childcare, activities, media, schools, religion, and spirituality.

  • Goslin, David A., ed. Handbook of Socialization Theory and Research. Chicago: Rand McNally, 1969.

    This is a classic resource for researchers interested in thinking at the cusp of old and modern approaches to socialization. Twenty-nine chapters describe developmental sociological, cultural biological, cognitive developmental, behavioral, and psychoanalytic theory and research just as problems in the field were emerging.

  • Grusec, Joan E., and Paul D. Hastings. Handbook of Socialization: Theory and Research. 2d ed. New York: Guilford, 2015.

    Comprehensive handbook, bringing together leading authorities to synthesize current knowledge on socialization from earliest childhood through adolescence, adulthood, and into old age. Twenty-six chapters showcase cutting-edge work in genetics and biology, cultural psychology, and research on parenting strategies, bidirectionality, and emotion. The volume presents innovative theories and methods, and identifies directions for future research. It is intended for advanced students, researchers, and professionals.

  • Holden, George W. Parenting: A Dynamic Perspective. 3d ed. Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE, 2021.

    This textbook provides a parent-centered overview of the complexity of parenting with a focus on socialization. It follows a format common to other undergraduate texts, covering theory, parenting at different stages, and various contemporary issues, including diverse contexts and maltreatment. However, the work’s authoritative research-based approach makes it stand out from other introductory texts.

  • Kuczynski, Leon. Handbook of Dynamics in Parent-Child Relations. Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE, 2003.

    DOI: 10.4135/9781452229645

    This is an important resource for research and theory on dynamic processes in parent-child interactions and relationships that may underlie outcome research. It provides overarching theoretical and methodological frameworks for studying bidirectional and relational processes in parent-child relations. Major sections of the book include conceptual frameworks; perspectives on children’s agency; perspectives on parental agency; ecological, cultural, and developmental contexts; and methodology.

  • Morris, Amanda S., and Julia M. Smith, eds. The Cambridge Handbook of Parenting: Interdisciplinary Research and Application. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2023.

    An edited, twenty-seven-chapter handbook reviewing past and current research. The twenty-seven chapters are presented in five major sections: foundations of parenting; parenting across development; parental factors that impact parenting; child factors that impact parenting; and parent education, intervention, and policy.

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