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The Power of Family Stories

By Carol Church, Writer, Family Album
Reviewed by Larry Forthun, PhD, Department of Family, Youth, and Community Sciences, University of Florida

This holiday season, did you and your children get together with extended family? These gatherings can sometimes be a little stressful or hard to plan, but the pay-off is often great for everyone. Maybe you were lucky enough to have some uninterrupted time with older family members who told stories from their childhoods or shared reminiscences from times past.

Most of us instinctively cherish these family histories, which give us a sense of who we are and our place in the world. Now, fascinating new research suggests that when parents and family members pass down these stories to their children, they may be imparting other strengths as well.

A recent small study of 66 teens suggests that young people who know more about their families, their parents, and those who came before them benefit in various ways. Those who could answer “yes” more often to a list of questions such as “Do you know how your parents met?” “Do you know the national background of your family?” and “Do you know which person in the family you act most like?” scored higher on measures of self-worth and had a stronger sense of their personal identities. Their families also tended to be higher functioning, with more open and positive communication and a history of emphasizing holidays and special traditions.

Teens who scored high on this measure were also less likely to have problems like feelings of sadness and isolation or fighting and disobedience. However, these differences in behavior were likely caused in large part by their families’ overall better functioning.

Although this study was preliminary and conducted on a small sample, it reinforces the value of sharing family stories, struggles, and triumphs. These stories may help young people understand that they, too, can overcome obstacles, meet challenges, and find their way to an authentic identity.

This holiday season and whenever you can, find moments to share the story of your family with children and teens. To see the 20 questions the teens were asked, visit Further Reading.

(Photo credit: UF/IFAS file photo.)

Further Reading

Duke, M. P. (2013). The Stories That Bind Us: What Are the 20 Questions? Retrieved from http://www.huffingtonpost.com/marshall-p-duke/the-stories-that-bind-us-_b_2918975.html 

References:

Fivush, R., Duke, M., & Bohanek, J. G. (2010). “Do You Know…” The power of family history in adolescent identity and well-being. Journal of Family Life (2/2010). Online. Available at http://publichistorycommons.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/12/The-power-of-family-history-in-adolescent-identity.pdf

(Originally published in a slightly different form as: Church, C. (2013).Knowledge of family histories has benefits for teens. [Radio broadcast episode]. Family Album Radio. Gainesville, FL:  University of Florida.)