The Power of Family Stories: 20 Questions You Should Ask Now
Pornography can tear families apart, so let’s talk about a proven secret that holds families together: creating and sharing family stories.
You might be surprised to find out that family stories are a major way to build resiliency in kids! The compelling evidence is reported in a New York Times article by Bruce Feiler entitled The Family Stories that Bind Us.
The more a child knows about his or her family, the better they do when they face challenges.
This is the startling conclusion reported by Feiler about research begun in the mid-1990’s by Marshall Duke, a psychologist at Emory University. It's really fascinating that such a simple practice could have such powerful results in kids.
The research into family stories
To test the hypothesis that knowledge of family stories helps kids become more resilient, Duke and a colleague, Robyn Fivush, developed a measure called the “Do You Know?” scale that asks kids a set of 20 questions about their family. For example:
- Do you know where your grandparents grew up?
- Do you know where your parents went to high school?
- Do you know where your parents met?
- Do you know about an illness or something really terrible that happened in your family?
- Do you know the story of your birth?
The researchers asked dozens of children these questions during the summer of 2001, as well as taping several of their family's dinner conversations. The kids took a battery of psychological tests and when all of this information was correlated, the psychologists reached an overwhelming conclusion:
"The more children knew about their family’s history, the stronger their sense of control over their lives, the higher their self-esteem and the more successfully they believed their families functioned. The ‘Do You Know?’ scale turned out to be the best single predictor of children’s emotional health and happiness.”
OK, just let your brain take that in for a moment. Kids who knew more about their own family history had:
- More sense of control over their lives;
- Higher self-esteem;
- Greater belief that their families were successful.
Says Dr. Duke: “We were blown away.”
9/11 tested the strength of family stories
Two months later 9/11 happened. The horror of that day gave Dr. Duke and Dr. Fivush a rare opportunity to reassess the kids, none of whom had been affected directly, but all had experienced the same national trauma. Once again, “the ones who knew more about their families proved to be more resilient.”
Turns out this ability to modulate the stressors of life have to do with the sense that a child is part of a larger family—they have a strong “intergenerational self” and know that they belong to something bigger than themselves.
And families that tell stories not just of success but of enduring and overcoming hard times do even better.
Two ways you can create and use family stories
What’s the secret sauce to strong kids and happier families? Dr. Duke recommends two things:
1. Pursue memorable activities with your kids: holidays, vacations, big family get-togethers and hokey, fun family traditions. “The hokier the family’s tradition, he said, the more likely it is to be passed down.” Dr. Duke’s family has a “custom of hiding frozen turkeys and canned pumpkin in the bushes during Thanksgiving so grandchildren would have to ‘hunt for their supper,’ like the Pilgrims.” You can also play games!
2. “Create, refine, and retell the story of your family’s positive moments and your ability to bounce back from the difficult ones. That act alone may increase the odds that your family will thrive for many generations to come.”
Will strong family traditions help to porn-proof your kids?
I believe they will help kids understand that real love, the real love of families, is not portrayed in porn. I believe resilient kids will have more strength to say no to porn. (And even if they get pulled into porn, resilient kids will have the love and support of their families to help them break free and believe they CAN DO it successfully.)
Have fun creating memories and sharing family stories! Your kids will be all the stronger for it. Find the list of 20 Family Story Questions and more activities to build resilience in kids in our guide Building Emotional Resilience in Kids.