The study of parent-child relations has been one of the most active areas of research and theory building in developmental psychology. In general, socialization theories have evolved from unidirectional, main effect models to more complex bidirectional and transactional models (Maccoby, 1992; Maccoby and Martin, 1983). There now exists considerable evidence that children influence their parents' behavior as much, and in some cases more, than parents influence their children (e.g., Anderson, Lytton, and Romney, 1986; Bell and Chapman, 1986; Bronstein, 1984; Dix, Rubel, and Zambarano, 1989; Grusec and Kuczynski, 1980; Kandel and Wu, 1995; Patterson, Reid, and Dishion, 1992). Thus, socialization is not just something that is done to the child, but rather an outcome of what each partner brings to the process (e.g., Chamberlain and Patterson, 1995). Nevertheless, the reciprocal nature of parent-child relations seems to have implications that far exceed contemporary theorizing.
This chapter represents a preliminary attempt to develop a model of socialization that goes beyond viewing parent-child relationships as simply clusters of bidirectional influences. I will argue that current socialization theories have come to an impasse, one that can be overcome by applying the principles of self-organization. Through this new lens, bidirectionality is seen as a crucial, but preliminary, step toward a more comprehensive explanatory model of parent-child relations.
In the first part of this chapter, research on the bidirectionality of socialization processes will be reviewed, and some limitations will be highlighted.