Socialization to Work in Late Adolescence: The Role of Television and Family

Article excerpt

Socialization has been defined as the process of learning the attitudes, values, and behavior patterns of a given society or group in order to function effectively within it (Elkind & Handel, 1989; Schaefer, 2005). One of the primary goals of socialization is the preparation for various social roles, including occupational roles (Jablin, 2000; Vondracek & Porfeli, 2003). According to Erikson's (1968) model of lifespan socialization, occupational identity is one of the most important aspects of identity formation in adolescence. In his view, a "moratorium" period during adolescence allows young people the freedom to experiment with different identities and adult roles. Ultimately, they must make a series of choices that lead to commitments in a variety of domains, including the commitment to an occupation.

The work environment is one of the most important contexts in which individuals function during their lives. Long before entering the workforce, children and adolescents develop conceptions of what it means to work, and form aspirations and expectations regarding their own place in the world of work. This process has been referred to as anticipatory socialization to work (Jablin, 2000). Five socialization sources--family, educational institutions, the media, peers, and volunteer or part-time jobs--have been identified as contributing to this process (Feij, 1998; Jablin, 2000). Each source provides different information about work and the workplace (Levine & Hoffner, 2006), and combined, they help young people to develop an understanding of what it means to work, and to begin considering future careers (Feij, 1998).

Young people learn a great deal by observing others, especially those they admire or feel close to, such as family members, friends, and media figures. In his social cognitive theory, Bandura (1986, 2001) contends that learning through observation can include simple imitation of behavior, but typically goes beyond this to involve the adoption of attitudes, values, aspirations, and other characteristics observed in others. This process clearly has a motivational component. People seek to become like others, in part, in an effort to achieve rewards or other valued outcomes, such as positive feedback, success, or enhanced self-esteem. Children initially learn about work in the home through chores, play, and observation of parents and other family members. Observing the work activities of parents and others with whom children have an emotional bond helps shape their values and attitudes toward work and provides a foundation for work socialization in adolescence (Feij, 1998). Television is also an important force in young people's lives, and provides many additional salient and attractive role models (Hoffner, 2008; Signorielli & Kahlenberg, 2001). Much evidence shows that young people learn from the values, beliefs, and behaviors exhibited by television characters (e.g., Valkenburg, 2004).

The present study examined the role of television and parents in the development of work values and occupational aspirations among college freshmen, aged 18 and 19. This age group is at the end of adolescence, on the cusp of adulthood. At this point in their lives, young people are seriously considering their educational and occupational choices (Arnett, 2000). Yet little research on socialization to work has examined this age group, and almost no research has compared the role of television and family in this process. The following sections define work values and occupational aspirations, and review theory and research regarding the role of television and parents as agents of socialization to work.

Work Values and Aspirations

Learning what it means to work begins in early childhood (Feij, 1998). Young people's work-related beliefs, attitudes, and values play an important role in their selection of an occupation or career and their satisfaction with this choice. Two key value dimensions have been identified in the literature on motivation: intrinsic motivation (i. …