Human beings are gregarious creatures. We live together, play together, learn together, work together, and attempt to solve our problems together. We are members of families, teams, classes, clubs, unions, and many other formal and informal groups. By obeying the norms and playing the roles assigned to us by these groups, we are able to satisfy our biological and psychological needs more effectively than most of us could ever hope to do by acting alone.
A person's first social experiences usually take place in a family setting. These early encounters with other people condition the individual to expect certain things and to behave in specific ways in preparation for entry into the larger society. As representatives of that society, parents, siblings, and other family members can instill a sense of personal confidence and capability in the individual on the one hand, or feelings of insecurity and anxiety on the other. These feelings, initiated in a family setting, generalize to other social situations and set the stage for the person's lifestyle in adulthood.
In their roles as socializers and educators of the young, most families provide not only care and support, but they also communicate social norms and values, and guide their members in the behaviors appropriate for the roles they must play. Many of these roles are age-stratified or age-graded, in that they change with the chronological age as well as gender, culture, and social status. Society holds different expectations for people of different ages and assigns different statuses and roles to different age groups. Traditionally, by the time people are in their twenties or thirties, they are supposed to assume adult roles and begin the process of transferring their culture from one generation to the next. Quite common as people age is a gradual disengagement from social activities and a reduction in the roles they are expected to play. Be that as it may, most older adults prefer to engage in personally and socially significant activities. Many of the social roles that give meaning to the lives of adults of all ages are those that involve relationships with family and friends, as well as those associated with being members of various organizations.
Although the population as a whole has increased dramatically during this century, the average family size has decreased. In contrast to a typical family of yesteryear, consisting of many members whose life spans were often quite short, today's families are more likely to consist of only four or five people residing under the same roof but with several generations of the same family still living. This beanpole family structure, as it has been labeled (Bengtson, Rosenthal, & Burton, 1990), has resulted in less time overall being spent in child rearing but with children having not only living grandparents but also great-grandparents and even great-great-grandparents.
In addition to being smaller, the families of today are different in other ways from what they used to be. Social changes have been accompanied by higher educational levels, higher divorce rates, a greater number of single-parent families, more mothers employed outside the home, earlier and more extensive retirement of older family members, and more leisure time and entertainment. Such developments have affected the attitudes, values, behaviors, and expectations of all family members, and particularly the younger ones. This chapter considers many of these structural and dynamic changes in the population and how they have affected the activities and ambitions of individual members of families.
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Although nobody gets a parenting manual or bible in the delivery room, it is our duty as parents to try to make our kids as well rounded, happy and confident as possible. It is a lot easier to bring up great kids than it is to try and fix problems caused by bad parenting, when our kids have become adults. Our children are all individuals - they are not our property but people in their own right.