In his article in the Sunday New York Times, adapted from his book, “The Secrets of Happy Families: How to Improve Your Morning, Rethink Family Dinner, Fight Smart, Go Out and Play, and Much More” Bruce Feiler talks about the importance of a family narrative. Children who have the most self confidence have what is called an oscillating family narrative, one in which they are aware of both their family’s history and an understanding of the trajectory of a family-that things are not always great, that each of us is part of a larger family and that there is a generational history.
While most of the research in this area has been done on children and the results indicate that children who knew most about their family’s history had a stronger sense of control over their lives and higher self-esteem, it is likely to continue to affect development throughout the teen years. As teens move out into the greater world, the sense of being rooted in family and tradition becomes increasingly important. Parents are often surprised when teens who have recently left for college suddenly want to celebrate a unique family holiday or long for a particular food that grandma used to make. Having a sense of belonging and an understanding of both their parent’s history and that of their grandparents is an invaluable gift parents can give their children. While it is important for parent’s to use good judgment in terms of what not to share, a real understanding of struggles, successes, failures and mistakes of those that preceded them emboldens teens.
In psychosocial development, answering the question “Who am I” is part of the work of the teen years. Parents and grandparents can help teens by contributing stories about the family that the teen may not have heard before as well as retelling stories that the teen may now better understand given their development growth.