“Unsocialized” Children

Socialization is the process whereby infants and children develop into social beings. Among other things, children develop a sense of self, memory, language, and intellect. And in doing so, they learn from their elders the attitudes, values, and proper social behaviors of the culture into which they were born. Becoming socialized benefits the individual by giving him or her the tools needed for success in the native culture, and also benefits the society by providing continuity over time and preserving its essential nature from generation to generation. In other words, socialization connects different generations to each other.

Stories of children found after years of living in the “wild” without any human contact occasionally appear in the literature. One of the most commonly cited examples is the Boy of Aveyron who emerged little more than a “beast” from a forest in France in 1798. “Unsocialized” children such as this boy typically look more animal than human, prefer to remain naked (at least at first upon being discovered), lack human speech, have no sense of personal hygiene, fail to recognize themselves in a mirror, show little or no reasoning ability, and respond only partially to attempts to help them change from “animal into human.” The phenomenon of feral (literally wild or untamed) children sparks much discussion regarding the nature versus nurture debate because research shows that the state of these children seems to suggest the important role that learning plays in normal human development.

Social scientists emphasize that socialization is intimately related to cognitive, personality, and social development. They argue that socialization primarily occurs during infancy and childhood, although they acknowledge that humans continue to grow and adapt throughout the lifespan. Sociologists also refer to the driving forces behind socialization as socializing agents, which include family, friends, peers, school, work, the mass media, and religion.