Children And Social Conditioning: How Our Society Shapes Us

Posted on April 16, 2013 in Society

 By Mahitha Kasireddi:

People’s own assessment of their own condition can overlook their objective and can be biased as a result of limited information and social conditioning
– Amartya Sen

The norms and ideologies that we adopt from the society around us about education, employment, culture, religion, spirituality and family life is called social conditioning. We need social conditioning mainly owing to the fundamental fact that man cannot live alone. Man is a social animal and social conditioning helps him to socialize and he feels a sense of belonging to a community.

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Today, whatever outlook we bear towards life, our beliefs, relationships, choices are all due to the influence of social conditioning since childhood. As adults, all the fears we encounter are based on social acceptance. To a large extent, it leaves us powerless. This essay may help you find out why we live unhappy lives. Ironically, we cannot put anybody under blame because we are impulsively ignorant about the consequences of conditioning.

To better understand social conditioning, lets go back and check what happened to us when were children and embark upon to see how inefficient our overall development is.

As children, we were influenced by two sets of people- family (parents) and teachers. Though we spent most of the time in school, we were more subjective to our parents. Do you remember the time when your parents taught you to behave while you are at a relative’s place? Or the time when you were reprimanded for cribbing in the shop for a toy? Though they look like regular etiquettes being preached to us, these are typical examples of social conditioning. This is to teach us to display an acceptable behaviour in front of others.

Parenting is the sole institution which conditions children in the name of bringing up with good values. Most of it is which parents inherited from their parents, apparently very obvious. Traditions, culture, religion or habits, anything that is preached generation after generation with nobody opposing or questioning before adopting are a great hindrance to developing a critical thinking or a free thinking society.

Today’s children will be tomorrow’s citizens. But, how productive will they prove to the nation if they were taught to believe that government is only to impose tax on the poor or that politics is a dirty field or social service is to be done only by the rich? Will they ever realise their social responsibility?

When in school, the kind of circle we maintain is also a result of what our parents tell us at home. A few middle class parents may warn their children to stay away from kids who have rich dads. They pass their prejudices to their children that upper class children need not study or work hard as everything is already given to them neatly served in a silver plate. Unknowingly, they induce the unhealthy envy feelings in the innocent minds who were supposed to mingle beyond such barriers. How embarrassed and startled would a child be when his classmate tells him “My mom asked me not to talk to you or play with you. She says I will spoil my future if I keep your company”. The child might carry this prejudice along all his life.

Supposing parents have a very radical thought and are over opinionated regarding other religions, communities or castes, it is one dangerous form of social conditioning induced in children who, when grown up, may get very intolerant towards other communities and may get easily offensive on criticism about their religion and beliefs. They may just stop listening to what others are trying to convey. This is an extremist ideology which spreads in the mind like a cancer.

The basic inputs that are to be put in childhood are deprived due to social conditioning, such as the aptitude to appreciate art. To make them believe that poetry, painting and cinema aren’t productive career choices and will reduce one to poverty if luck does not favour. Due to the conditioning administered, there may be many such artists in children who never realised their worth or developed on their ability. Religions forbidding movies, for whatever ethical reasons, may actually chain the imagination of a child.

Social conditioning is also a deterrent to personality development. If somebody is an introvert or an extrovert it is all the consequence of it. It is so undeniable to say that whatever we are today it is a collective outcome of how we were brought up and the circumstances of our childhood.

A few people do not believe in buying gifts and greetings for their dear ones. They argue vehemently that it is all marketing stuff to sell their products. They consider it as silly or dramatic to present such things to their parents or children or spouse. Imagine what their children will become. They will grow up not knowing to express emotions to anyone because of the fear of being ridiculed. Eventually, they will be proclaimed as a ‘not-a-relationship’ type of person.

Money is above all. It is a prominent reason to socially condition children. Our financial believes, the way we think while making purchases or spending habits are all that we inherit from our parents. If parents are persons who stress a lot on the value of money or saving in order to meet the crisis of a rainy day, their children would be stingy in spending money even though the situation does not demand. They may end up not fulfilling their wishes and may even refuse to help someone in need.

It is not only the thought process but children also inherit a few unnecessary fears. Mainly, it makes them conscious all the time about what the society thinks about them. This is a great impediment in developing a high self-esteem and also decision making without looking for others’ approval. When we grow up to be adults, subconsciously we might be struggling half the time to impress people and wait for others to validate us.

Also, because a few parents are overprotective about their kids, they may develop a hostile attitude towards new people and find it difficult to adjust at places away from home. They may get over cautious even to answer to a co-passenger’s questions rather than opening up and starting up a conversation themselves.

We also need to discuss about how parents control their children with ego and guilt. This is not to demoralize the sacrosanct parent-child love and relationship but lets be honest and leave the hypocrisy behind. How fair is it to manipulate young minds in the way we want? See how difficult it is to draw the thin line between nurturing and clutching. Career choices need a special mention. That stereotype which says a doctor’s child will be a doctor is just grievous notion that paralysis the child’s aptitude brings down his IQ levels and totally destroys the creativity in the child. Parents control the long future ahead by displaying their ego in rejecting their child’s dream because of their adamant belief that they know what is best for their child. It is just foolish to cage the song of the bird.

Children are controlled or I’d rather say ‘disciplined’ in the parents’ context, by ‘guilt’. Telling the child that he is bad if he does not obey his elders may look minor at that stage but does it not apply later in every aspect in life? In situations where parents feel embarrassed in their circles because their kid does not study well or did not win a competition, puts the child under the guilt of tarnishing the image of his/her parents.

A ‘social conditioning induced’ evil in the society is ‘gender-bias’. Boys are the ones who develop prejudices against movement of women and their choices when they see how their sisters are treated at home. For children, whatever their parents do is right so, if they are restricting the girl child of the house, the son of the family will procedurally grow up to treat his daughter in the same way.

The dangerous spin-off brought about by social conditioning of children is when they develop cognitive biases as adults. Wikipedia says there are many types of cognitive biases. These are built up due to creating one’s own ‘subjective social reality’. These biases effect decision making, illusionary correlations between things which are mostly illogical. They tend to ignore key information which involves in making judgement and rather give weight to unimportant details. This is how critical thinking suffers a setback.

The mind is now clouded with so many prejudices. A culture, family and society induced ‘stimulus-response’ is packaged in the subconscious mind. After years of such brainwash, how do you comprehend an argument put forward by others or appreciate others’ thoughts?

It is now apparently visible that social conditioning a child also puts a curb on his/her free thinking. The wit and intelligence in children to question the logic behind traditions or culture is suppressed under the cover of social acceptance and parent’s respect possibly because there is no explanation to them but for the fear of being rejected by others.

Cognitive biases and prejudices can be reduced when we become aware of the consequences of conditioning. We should inculcate the out-of-the box thinking by viewing our culture as an outsider. The gradual outcome would be an evolution of a counter-culture which propagandizes that socializing is possible even without social conditioning. Where children will be left to be impulsive and given the environment to spring up as better individuals who are more tolerant, socializing and harmonious and live happier lives.

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