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How does positive socialization play a role in prevention?

Our previous Prevention Nugget presented the Etiology Model that showed the sources of influence on human beings’ beliefs, attitudes, norms and behaviors. Let’s explore this some more.

When we are born, we have no innate culture. Culture, attitudes, beliefs, language, behavior are all learned. This learning process is socialization. Socialization is a lifelong process, and includes a large array of socialization agents throughout our lives. It takes place through observation and guided learning in a positive environment. Socialization is enhanced when children form warm attachments and feel bonded to the socialization agent. Being raised in a positive family environment, feeling successful in school or faith-based organization, having acceptance among peers creates feelings of belonging and bonding. Having poor or failed interactions can promote feelings of alienation or not belonging and may drive individuals away from family, peers, school or faith-based organizations perhaps towards forming attachments to negative environments and groups.

As we said above, the primary influencers of this process are socialization agents. Examples of socialization agents are parents, teachers, religious leaders, organizational peers, and work colleagues. As a life-long process, successful socialization helps us adjust positively to life’s transitions. These life transitions are associated with physical, emotional, and cognitive changes. The experience of these biological and physiological transitions will vary by gender but also by the degree to which earlier developmental benchmarks are achieved. Furthermore, response to these transitional changes is guided by family, community, and cultural factors through the socialization process.

What do these transitions look like? These transitions involve moving from home and family to school. And in cases where schools are focused on developmental levels—elementary, middle and high school—transitions occur when moving from one school to another. Children go from being the top-grade students to entry level newbies. Major transitions are from high school to college and/or to work. In many cases, for the first time, individuals are away from their families and may have no supervision. Then of course, there are social changes in our lives, such as, changing peer relationships, dating, getting married and attaining a new family. Also, having children, entering new job situations and cultures. And, finally retirement, loss of one’s spouse or partner as well as loss of family and friends. Preparation even for ‘normal’ life transitions offers us the opportunity to respond appropriately in order to improve the outcomes of the transition and make us more resilient.

In many ways, prevention is also a socialization process and the prevention professional is a socialization agent. This process can operate in two ways. First, the prevention professional may serve to train key socialization agents such as parents and teachers to enhance their socialization skills. For parents this may be to help with parenting skills. Perhaps how to engage a child who may be vulnerable due to poor emotional or behavior controls. For teachers, this may be in creating a classroom climate that engages students positively so they perform better academically. But also the prevention professional may engage in the socialization process as socialization agents. An example of this role would be in delivering an evidence-based prevention intervention such as a school-based substance use prevention curriculum. When prevention interventions address children and adolescents directly through a school-based substance use prevention curriculum, they are socializing the students to make sound decisions about the use of substances.

These interventions underscore that substance use is not an acceptable behavior for their age group and that the majority of their peers do not use substances; demonstrate the negative effects of substance use on their social and academic lives, as well as on their health; and, provide opportunities to practice refusal skills in relevant scenarios in which they may be offered alcohol, tobacco or some other substance. Furthermore, through macro-level environmental interventions, prevention professionals can create environments that help to reinforce positive decision-making and behaviors. Some of these involve changing policies or laws regulating access to substances, controlling their use in public places, raising taxes on purchasing and other environment-based actions.

In other words, we could say that prevention is evidence-based socialization.

Can you think of other examples of prevention as a socialization process? Join the conversation by posting your comments here!

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