Socialization is the means by which people become proficient members of a society. It is how people understand societal norms and expectations, accept collective beliefs and become aware of societal values.
In the summer of 2005, police detective Mark Holste and an investigator from the Department of Children and Families went to a house in Florida. They were looking into a statement from the neighbour reporting a small uncared for girl peering from one of its broken windows.
Entering the house, they were shocked. It was the worst mess they'd ever seen, infested with cockroaches, smeared with faeces and urine from people and pets and filled with dilapidated furniture and ragged window coverings.
In a small room they found the little girl, with big, vacant eyes, staring into the darkness. She lay on a torn, mouldy mattress on the floor. She was curled on her side, her ribs and collarbone jutted out, her black hair was matted, crawling with lice. Insect bites, rashes and sores pocked her skin. She was naked except for a swollen diaper. Her mother said her name was Danielle. She was almost seven years old.
She was taken to a hospital for medical treatment and evaluation where doctors found her to be severely malnourished. She was able to see, hear and vocalize normally but wouldn't look anyone in the eyes, couldn't chew or swallow solid food, cry or respond to stimuli or communicate with words or simple gestures. The only way she could stand was with someone holding hands and she walked sideways on her toes, like a crab.
What had happened to her? She had been severely neglected, left almost entirely alone in rooms like the one where she was found. Without regular interaction, the holding, hugging, talking, the explanations and demonstrations given to most young children, she had not learned to walk or to speak, to eat or to interact, to play or even to understand the world around her.
From a sociological point of view, Danielle had not been socialized. Even the most basic of human activities need to be learned. Even physical tasks like sitting, standing and walking had not automatically developed for Danielle as she grew. She hadn't learned about the material culture of her society, she couldn't hold a spoon, bounce a ball or even use a chair for sitting. She also hadn't learned its beliefs, values and norms. She had no understanding of the concept of "family," didn't know cultural expectations for using a bathroom nor had any sense of modesty.
How is she doing now? She has improved significantly after ten years. However she remains with serious deficiencies in all areas of her life and will need support and care throughout her life.
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