Social Norms Term Paper

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Social norms are rules of conduct that materialize based on a society’s values. Social norms are not always the same since different societies have different values. Without social norms there would be chaos; social norms make society’s behavior predictable, for the most part. Most of our society likes predictability; it helps to make us feel safe. Each person is taught social norms through contact with other human beings. The family is one of the first avenues by which children begin to form their understanding of social norms. Parents are constantly teaching their children what is appropriate and what is not appropriate. I will never forget the time that my son asked me, very loudly as a woman walked by us with super short hair and dressed in men’s clothing, “Mommy, is that a boy or a girl?” I was mortified. Of course, I had a talk with him about not talking about people when that person is within ear shot. In addition to the family teaching children social norms, we continue to learn spoken and unspoken social norms throughout our entire lifetime. We learn social norms in school, in friendships, at work, in libraries and hospitals, to name a few. We pick up on what is acceptable by reading signs, listening to instructions from people and watching how others behave in certain settings. The term deviance is used to describe the breaking of any social norm. Most ley people would say that deviance has a negative connotation to it; however, sociologists do not tack on any judgment when using the word deviance. Deviance is used to describe the smallest to largest infractions of norm breaking. A small infraction might be standing too close to the person in front of you in line. This is an example of breaking a folkway and is frowned upon by most Americans but not exactly punishable by law. An example of a large infraction would be rape which is an example of the breaking of a mores and is unacceptable to our culture and punishable by law. “In short, norms bring about social order, a group’s customary social arrangements. Our lives are based on these arrangements, which is why deviance often is perceived as threatening: Deviance undermines predictability, the foundation of social life” (Henslin, 205). I abhor the idea of bringing attention to myself in public so I was making myself sick thinking of what social norm I would break for this project. I knew I would need to conduct my experiment in a place where I was unlikely to see anyone I knew. Even the thought of embarrassing myself in front of strangers made me feel a little sick. I care way too much what other people think of me, even strangers! “People tend to behave in ways that they believe other people approve of, and avoid those behaviors they think others will disapprove of. This normative social influence is based on the fundamental human need to be liked and accepted by others”(Aarts, et al, 448). My 17-year old daughter offered to be the actor for my “breaking norms” experiment. We talked for a few days about what we should do. We decided that she would break the, somewhat unwritten, social norm of conforming behavior in public. One Saturday afternoon after her softball practice she and I headed to WalMart to conduct our experiment. Still wearing her softball gear, including a sweatband around her forehead, she set out. She had her headphones in and she began to sing loudly and dance along to her music while skipping through the aisles of WalMart. At one point she passed three boys about her same age and as she passed them she turned around to let them know that she had seen them before she continued down her path of utter freedom from social norms. What I thought was interesting and typical is that she had no problem playing out her role until she saw someone that she knew! Luckily she made an abrupt U-turn before the person saw her. Funny enough, it wasn’t even a peer; her acquaintance was a woman that had been her soccer coach for several of her last few...
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