Gender Socialization of Adolescents in the Home: Research and Discussion

By Peters, John F. | Adolescence, Winter 1994 | Go to article overview

Gender Socialization of Adolescents in the Home: Research and Discussion


Peters, John F., Adolescence


There has been considerable gender research on inequality in employment, sports participation, television programs, and literature content over the past two decades. However, there is limited research on adolescent gender socialization within the family. Until the early seventies, the family was generally viewed as supporting institutional functions in which females were socialized to be dependent, fragile, unaggressive, sensitive, nurturant, and hesitant to take risks. Males were seen as being socialized in the home to be strong, confident, independent, and daring. Bakans (1966) said that fathers emphasized instrumental behaviors while mothers emphasized expressive behaviors in child socialization. A review of adolescent and family research in the 1980s shows that adolescent socialization in the home was studied in terms of their well-being and development, as well as their identity and parental response to avoid adolescent deviance (Gecas & Seff, 1990). Socialization in gender-role behavior is conspicuously absent.

This research on gender socialization of adolescents in the home environment focuses upon six common family activities: allowances, parental gift giving, use of the family car, curfew, and chores done in and outside the home.

Adolescent behavior originates from multiple sources: home, peers, school, media, and employment. Gender differences generally peak in the adolescent years. Males want to be macho and many are engaged in competitive sports. Females are cosmetics and fashion conscious. Each has a "possession stake": males for athletic equipment and females for jewelry (Peters, 1988). Females shop for their own clothing (Peters, 1989), and males purchase more costly stereos. At least in the early and middle teen years, most heterosexual coupling behavior affirms stereotyped images of male and female. Adolescent behavior is also somewhat unique because of a "generation stake" which Acock and Bengtson (1980) differentiate from the older generation with regard to politics and punishment for criminal acts.

Ultimately adolescent gender behavior is derived from their interaction and reaction to various agents of socialization. Adolescents' constructed social reality emerges and changes through experiences, and may be quite different from that of their parents. Adolescents act out from their sense of reality, and this pertains to gender as well. We do not live in a gender-blind society.

. . . in contemporary society gender is a central organizing principle in men's and women's images of themselves and . . . their construction of their social world is indisputable. (Spence, 1981, p. 146)

What adults have internalized in terms of gender role expectations through primary socialization is retained in their "subjective reality," even when later learning overlaps and contradicts it (Laws & Schwartz, 1977, p. 9). We might call this "gender stake." The threads of sex roles run through the fabric of our society and are nourished and sustained by our human institutions (Lambert, 1971, p. 2).

They develop ideas of what is right or proper for them as boys or girls to do, to believe, to aspire to, and ways to relate to others. They are learning about the social order, which in time will appear to them to be a natural social order in the sense that they will come to take it for granted as the framework within which they think and act (Lambert, 1971, p. 1).

Gender values and norms are indelibly woven into our adult world and are perpetuated in the young in overt and covert ways. The concern of this research is parental socialization of adolescents in the home. Several social, psychological, and cultural considerations are relevant. At adolescence there is a degree of socialization along same-sex lines between parent and child (Gecas & Seff, 1990, p. 984). Mother-daughter relationships are more intense than father-daughter relationships (Steinberg, 1987). Gecas and Seff (1990) state that there is a "tendency in our culture to be more protective of females and more permissive of males. …

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