By Derick Dickens
Socialization – the word is not a bad word, but it is often used poorly to make a point about the need for children to be around other children. But when you look at the evidence, you must conclude that socialization has little to do with the amount of time they have with other kids. The key to socialization is the amount of time kids spend with parents.
Take a few of these studies. In a previous article written a few weeks ago, I showed a study from Penn State that found kids are better adjusted with their father in the home. Other studies have shown that even as children get older, social interaction with their parents result in them being more socially adjusted. Countless studies have found that families who eat dinner together and interact around meals have children who excel in school, are physically healthier, show a reduction of stress for the entire family, and the kids are better socially and emotionally. Findings are surfacing that consistent, timely, and good interactions with kids are what makes the key difference.
In reality, the studies are conclusive. The more quality time parents spend with their children, the better off they are socially, physically, and emotionally.
But what about time with their peers? Does peer-to-peer interaction increase their socialization?
In fact, while some interaction is beneficial, socialization is diminished with too much time around peers. This is precisely what Susan Loeb stated in a study published in the Economics of Education Review:
The results were sobering. While center-based care raised reading and math scores, it had a negative effect on social behavior. Kids who began attending daycare earlier in life were more likely to develop behavior problems. And there was evidence of a dosage effect, at least for some groups. White children experienced increased negative effects with just three hours of care per day, and the effects more than doubled for kids attending at least 6 hours each day. African-American kids didn’t experience increased behavior problems unless they attended at least 6 hours a day (Loeb et al 2007).
The National Institute for Child Health and Human Development also saw similar results. They found that the more time kids spent away from maternal care, especially at younger ages, the more social problems they exhibited and were rated less socially competent by their parents and teachers.
There is much to discover in this research that has gone unexplored or is still being tested. But we can summarize the findings like this, all research points to better socialization when parents are most engaged. Research also shows the more a child interacts with peers the more likely this interaction will have a negative impact socially.
This article is not attempting to convince you that all peer-to-peer interactions are harmful to children. Yes, it is good for children to interact. However, the example is clear, parents need to be continually engaged in solid interactions with their children on a consistent basis. Parents are the number one means for developing social skills in their children.
As Christians, we also understand there is more to interaction than merely talking about the days events. In Deuteronomy 6, we see a special interaction parents should enjoy with their children:
““Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.” (Deuteronomy 6:4-9, ESV)
One of the interactions we should enjoy with our children, and primary among them, is teaching our kids about God. This interaction should not only occur at the dinner table, but throughout our life and day. In essence, we should be bathing our kids (and ourselves) in the teachings of the Gospel from the time they are young till the time they are old. They should see the Gospel active in our life as we interact with others and live in this world.
While a main goal of the world is socialization, our main goal should be richer and deeper. It is giving our children a clear understanding on how to live out the Gospel daily.
Derick Dickens has an MBA in Leadership, MDiv, and MA in Religion. He speaks regularly on topics ranging from Christian Worldview issues to business leadership, and he is a Professor of Business and Human Resources. Married for 15 years to his wife Lacie, they have three children and live in Lynchburg Virginia. You can follow Derick on Twitter at twitter.com/derickdickens.
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