Self-Socialization: A Case Study of a Parachute Child

Article excerpt

In the developmental literature, we typically think of socialization as a process through which parents, teachers, religious leaders, or other social agents guide children and adolescents toward thoughts and actions that are considered socially desirable. Socialization results in the internalization of the attitudes, norms, values, and goals of the groups and societies to which one is striving to adapt. In this context, effective socialization is often viewed as top down or outside in, where the norms and values of the culture exist outside the child and are gradually internalized through a variety of means such as reinforcement, imitation, and identification.

The purpose of this paper is to illustrate the far-reaching possibilities of self-socialization that are evidenced through the case of a parachute child. Considerable theoretical work focuses on the individual's capacity to guide his or her own development. Brandstadter (1999) discussed the concept of intentional self-development, which implies that "the 'self' is a locus of personal agency and a target of self-referent activity" (p. 48). This concept suggests that the individual is able to reflect on the self, formulate a vision of a future self, set goals, and take actions that create or alter the developmental trajectory. Intentional self-development emerges as a product of increasing individuation within cultures that are becoming less tightly scripted, more complex, and rapidly changing. Because of their great potential for plasticity, human beings are able to adapt to a wide variety of environments. Due to the rapidly changing nature of modern societies, including new technologies, new forms of communication, increasing amounts of information, new governmental forms, diverse family forms, and increasing globalization, all of which open up many possible pathways for development, it is necessary for individuals to reflect on the self that they desire or hope to become. There is evidence from developmental science to support the idea that personal preferences result in intentional actions that strengthen certain developmental pathways more than others (Arnett, 1995; Martin & Ruble, 2004; Morgan, Isaac, & Sansone, 2001). However, this research stops short of exploring the more fully integrated capacities to take actions that will fulfill an individual's representation of his or her self moving into an anticipated future. The process of self-socialization suggests that individuals draw on their own sense of agency to select the best social contexts to support their development, and that this process is both a product of and a contributor to individual development and individualization (Arnett, 2007; Heinz, 2002). There is a need for further study to expand our understanding of self-socialization as it operates in different domains of development and to explore how the process of self-socialization as a capacity for self-directed goal attainment changes over the life course.

The details of this case illustrate how a person constructs her life from a very young age. She voluntarily rejects the socialization context of her family and home in Taiwan, choosing to remain in the U.S. at 10 years of age in order to fulfill the objective of greater educational attainment. She continues to persist in that commitment, repeatedly demonstrating her capacity to select the environment she believes will optimize her ability to reach a desired future. Drawing on a profound capacity for personal agency, she overcomes obstacles, identifies resources, and internalizes values to build a life structure.


Parachute kids are young children, typically elementary or middle-school-age, who come to live in the United States while their parents continue to live in the country where the child was born. The majority of these children are Asian, primarily from Taiwan, but also from mainland China, Hong Kong, South Korea, Vietnam, Singapore, Malaysia, and Indonesia (Horn, 2002). …