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The Importance of Family History & Family Stories

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When we talk about the importance of family discussions and meaningful conversations, we speak from experience. Families who get together and talk, whether around the dinner table, in between activities or in some other settings, feel a greater sense of closeness. The children of these families are also better positioned for success and are less susceptible to the pitfalls of childhood and adolescence.

Researchers at Emory University have recently taken it upon themselves to research family dinner conversations and develop quantifiable criteria for how well families work. The research, conducted by psychologists Robyn Fivush and Marshall Duke, as well as former Emory graduate student Jennifer Bohanek, found that, “family stories provide a sense of identity through time, and help children understand who they are in the world.”

The study is called “Do You Know? The power of family history in adolescent identity and well-being.” It is based on the well respected theory that intergenerational stories and family history can help adolescents with both their general well-being and sense of identity. The researchers created what they call the “DYK” Scale (Do You Know?) based on questions about family lore. This unique scale was combined with more standardized measures of “family functioning, identity development and well-being.”

The results showed that teens with an increased level of knowledge related to family background showed “higher levels of emotional well-being, and also higher levels of identity achievement, even when controlling for general level of family functioning.”

This goes to show that there is real value in sharing stories with your children about where they came from and who their family members are. Some examples of background included in the “DYK Scale” were knowing how one’s parents met, as well as where they grew up and went to school. These are just examples, and the study indicates the more a child knows the better.

Based on both this study and our personal experiences, we encourage parents to sit down with their children and talk about family members and history. Introduce your children to these stories in their younger years, and revisit them in more detail as your children grow.

Learning Family History Benefits Children

Teach your children and teens about yourself, their grandparents and extended family. Tell them about the good things their relatives have done, the hardships they have endured and overcome, and  anything else they may be able to learn from other generations.

After you have introduced your children and teens to some of this information, encourage them to sit down with their relatives and hear the stories firsthand. Children and teens will typically get a real joy out of “interviewing” their grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins and other family members. They may even want to record some of these conversations for posterity. Create an archive of family history that you will all enjoy having, and that will aid your children and teens in their personal growth.

The act of sharing these stories will be a reward in and of itself, as all will enjoy the subject matter and the time spent together growing closer. The notion that it will benefit children’s development is just icing on the cake.