Monday, December 18, 2006

Social Maturity

So i'm in a class on adolescent development, and we're talking about various stages of maturity in different areas, such as social, intellectual, physical, etc. I'm really wondering about social maturity because i'm not aware of an objective way to judge it. My suspicion is that the average American measures social maturity by observing a subject's ability to "fit in" to society. But is "fitting in" a good measure?

I'm particularly interested in this concept because I was homeschooled for most of my education before college. One of the biggest concerns people have about homeschooling is that they are afraid the children don't get the social interaction that they need to mature socially. I won't argue that social development would occur differently for someone who was homeschooled than for someone who attended a public or private school with lots of other students. And I won't argue that most of them seem somewhat different from their peers upon graduation from high school. But are they worse off than their peers, or just different? (you can probably guess my opinon)

If social maturity is defined as the ability and tendency to conform, homeschoolers are definitely at a disadvantage. But i don't think that's the right definition, and i suspect that, at least when its worded this way, many people would agree with me. So how do we define social maturity?

It's possible that researchers have an objective standard, and if so i'd like to hear about it. But since i don't know theirs, i'll try at my own: Social maturity is an understanding of the social rules and norms in place in a given culture and the ability to use that knowledge effectively.

I didn't say "and the tendency to abide by those rules." i think a person can be socially mature and still behave in ways that are different from and uncomfortable to the people around them. Perhaps an extreme example would be reformers such as Martin Luther King Jr. The key is that they understand those rules and follow them or break them as they see fit. The difference between a socially mature person who breaks social rules and a socially immature person who breaks them is that the mature person is aware of the consequences that will result and has accepted them. The socially immature person breaks the rules and still expects other people to reward them for it.

If this is the case, then homeschoolers do have a disadvantage - they learn the rules slower because of their limited social interaction. Perhaps some never learn all the rules, but can't the same thing be said for non-homeschooled students? I believe most do come to understand their culture as well as the average member of that culture. Few homeshooled students are totally cut off from others, and social rules are also learned from parents. Then as they enter college or work they learn even more.

But i think public- and private-schooled students are also at a disadvantage - I suspect that they are strongly encouraged to always follow the social rules at a young age. (i.e. peer pressure) They don't have a chance to develop mentally and socially before they are forced to learn to survive in a sea of other immature people. They learn the rules well, but it seems it would be harder for them to break them when necessary.

Of course this is all my own speculation. And I know that i'm not able to be completely objective. But i think its a question worth raising, and i'd love to hear if anyone has more light to shed on the subject.

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