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The Family's Influence on Identity

by Martha Holden

The search for identity is a life-long process that even psychologists cannot fully define. The family unit plays a significant role in shaping individuality. Other influences include friends, school, the media and religion. However, according to Dr. Elisa Medhus, author of “Raising Children Who Think for Themselves,” the family is the first "pack" a child identifies with and it often shapes his beliefs and choices into adulthood. Open discussions with your children encourage communication on issues such as religion and sexuality that help shape their identity.

Self-Confidence

A strong united family builds a child’s confidence. Affirming your children helps encourage them to make choices on their own and discover their individuality. Additionally, different family activities such as camping trips, community service, sharing a hobby and family chores help children learn and practice different skills they may use as adults. Criticism, on the other hand, lowers a child’s self-esteem, especially if you attack the child’s appearance or performance in academic or sports.

Family Identity

Individuals from families with strong family traditions, such as yearly vacations or birthday parties, identify strongly with their families. A strong family identity may reduce the influence of the media and peer pressure on your children especially in their teenage years, according to Dr. Elisa Medhus, author of "Raising Children Who Think for Themselves." Parents may also pass on these traditions to their children, which helps strengthen their sense of belonging even in adulthood.

Political Identity

Open discussions within the family shape children’s political choices, says Rick Nauert, Ph.D., writing for PsychCentral. These discussions challenge children especially if they participate in school elections. After such discussions, your children are likely to search the Internet and read newspapers, which can further enlighten them politically and strengthen their political views. Additionally, children who engage in political discussions with their parents are more likely to follow their parent’s political views, says Lindsay Hoffman, professor of communication and political science for the University of Delaware, writing for "The Huffington Post."

Occupational Identity

The family unit influences an individual’s career choices both directly and indirectly. The family can provide a calm climate that challenges teenagers or set standards and encourages them to work harder, according to Dr. Nazima Dharsee writing for "Knowledge Magazine" in 2009. Alternatively, a hostile environment may lower a teen’s self-esteem and may not inspire success. Dr. Dharsee further points out that a warm family environment instills skills such as social competence, self-confidence and persistence that can help teenagers while making career choices.

About the Author

Martha Holden began writing professionally in 2002. She has contributed articles on food, weddings, travel, human resources/management and parenting to numerous publications. Holden holds a Bachelor of Science in psychology from the University of Houston.

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