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Personal reflections of Haitian teen socialization


Justafort, P. (1997, Winter). How the major social systems—family, media, and peers—affected my development, particularly in the ages of 5-12 and 13-17. Center for Youth Studies.


Socialisation has been defined as the process by which persons acquire knowledge, skills, and dispositions that make them more or less integrated members of their society. Every society, simple or complex, is faced with the task of socialising its members into its basic culture and—to varying degrees—providing further socialisation of its members as they move into different statuses at different stages in the life cycle.

A child is socialised as it learns the ways of life of the society into which it is born and in which it will function as an adult member. Socialisation, therefore, is the process by which people are developing into social system members interacting with one another in a social environment. The school, the family, the media, and the peer group are social systems caring for or helping the child either successively or simultaneously. The account in this paper is a personal reflection on how the above socialising agents affected by development, particularly in the ages of 5-12 and 13-17.


The institution of the family has been acknowledged universally as the oldest institution of human existence. It is also universally recognised as the primary agency of socialisation. As a young boy and adolescent, I was raised in a rural family with my grandparents and aunt. The word "family" as employed in Haiti has a broader meaning than it is given in Europe and America, where it describes only the most immediate relationship group. While the Haitian organization of mother, father, and children lies at the base of its social structure, the Haitian family includes a wide range of relatives, direct and collateral, on the sides of both parents.

In my context, family does not imply father, mother, and children. I was nurtured by an extended family. My biological father died when I was only nine months old. During my childhood and adolescence, I lived with relatives—not with my single mother. So, I considered my grandparents, my aunt, and my uncle to be my family. They were the most influential on my personality development.

One of the most important and positive ways in which my family affected my personality development is through the love and care they provided me. My grandfather functioned very well as a father. I learned strong values, guidance, and informal education from my extended family and from the whole community in which I was raised.

Traditionally in Haiti a child was socialized by the whole community, in the sense that he or she could be corrected or disciplined by any adult. I tried to be as good and polite as possible. Until the age of 17, my grandparents and other relatives had full authority to instruct me to perform simple duties. We treated each other with respect. My parents were very strict disciplinarians; they used physical punishment. Beatings were usually given. I was refused toys, money, and recreation when I misbehaved. In short, my family was concerned for my future and my role in the society. They wanted to mold me into a responsible man. I was valued by my family; this enabled me to build my esteem and discover my identity.


My family shaped my first experiences of life. However, as I grew older, I interacted with other children of the same age and we influenced each other at school and in the community. During adolescence, my peer groups were the most important socializing agents. Like modern Amercian peer groups, Haitian peer groups wielded much control over young people’s behavior. Peer group influences often competed with parental values.

As a teenager, my peers helped me in several ways:

    • They disciplined me.
    My friends disciplined each other primarily through social ostracism, or open disapproval, until the bad behavior ceased. My peer groups might refuse to talk to or interact with deviant members.They motivated me to learn. Friends enriched my school experiences. When I was in high school, I didn’t only learn from my teachers, but also from my peer group. We used to meet regularly to discuss and study certain school subjects.They taught me gender roles. Girls frequently teamed more freely with girls, and boys with boys. Most of our play and activities were sex-role oriented. Also, in my family, discussing sex was taboo, so my peer group offered me the opportunity to talk about sex.They met my needs for belonging and acceptance. It was great to have friends for talking, playing, and sharing.
    They served as an information bureau. My friends and I came from varied environments and backgrounds; when we met, we shared information. As we interacted, each of us learned the ways of life of the others.


In my township, schools work together with parents or families. Many of the functions of family are also those of school. In elementary school, I memorized this sentence: "A l’école le professeur remplace les parents." (At school the teacher takes the place of the parents.) Like my parents, my teachers had influence and authority. Physical punishments were used at school. Consequently, to avoid being in trouble with my teachers, I was a good, serious student.

The media did not significantly impact my personality development. When I was between the ages of 5-17, there was no electricity in the locality where I lived, so nobody had a television set; only a few people possessed a radio. Newspapers and magazines didn’t exist. I was not exposed to modern media (radio, television, movies, newspaper, magazines, telephone, etc.) until the age of 20, when I moved to town for secondary school.

However, oral communication was effective in my locality. For that reason, I enjoyed hanging around with friends, sharing information, and getting informed on what was happening in the community.


  • Why would it be helpful to consider the primary influences in one’s upbringing?
  • Are adolescents capable of recognizing the influences in their lives? Would this be a helpful activity?
  • After discovering the primary influences in one’s life, what can be done with that information? Does this information matter?
  • What do you think about the ability for anyone in a community to correct or discipline a misbehaving young person? Is this a positive or a negative cultural norm? Explain.
  • How would a young person’s life be different without the influence of the media? Would a young person’s life be enhanced or suffer without the media?
  • Do you work with Haitian youth? When comparing their childhood and adolescence to that of the author, are there similarities in their upbringings today?



  • Families, peers, and the media are all powerful shapers of our lives. Understanding their influence in our lives may help us understand why we are the way we are.
  • Knowledge is power. The more one knows about oneself, the more capable he or she is being firm in his or her convictions.
  • It is important for those working with kids to recognize the complex, interwoven, and competing socializing agents of a young person’s life. The variables often collide in adolescence, and the youth worker can be key in helping a young person sort through the mixed messages.


Patrice Justafort and Kathryn Q. Powers cCYS