Family Talk and Identity

Kids are cute, funny, angelic (especially when they’re sleeping) and provide a steady stream of quotables for their baby books. But somewhere between potty training and the prom, communication breaks down. Maybe that’s why moms stop writing down all the things their offspring say as they get older. Sure, it could be that the phrases they utter are no longer novel. But it might also be that they’re no longer heartwarming.

Something to Talk About

Family hobbies can help maintain the communication that flows between parent and child, even when they hit puberty. A friend of mine with grown children tells of their shared interests in camping and mountaineering and rock climbing. She describes their hobbies as “a thread of continuity throughout the changes.”

Opportunities for open communication will arise from:

  • Shared Accomplishments — Finally conquering the double black diamond, scaling a challenging rock or even finishing a 1,000 page novel can be an emotional high that acts like relational glue.
  • Shared Memories — Engaging in activities that have been part of your routine for years has the potential to bring back good memories and feelings from days that were less complicated. I suspect we’ll always make reference to the time I almost stepped on a snake during one memorable hike. The kids talked about my reaction for days and still bring it up whenever we’re on the trail.
  • Stories — There’s nothing better than going to school with a good story. That snake encounter was the first thing out of my son’s mouth when he got to preschool the following day. For the teen, being able to talk about his accomplishments in the context of family — “me and my dad ran a marathon together over the weekend” — is a mark of identity and pride not common among today’s youth.

Beyond the school yard, those stories are great dinner-table conversation.

When family activities are built around mutual interests and mutual accomplishments, they create opportunities for affirming, positive, relationship-building conversations that build bonds of trust.

Family Identity Matters

Kids need to belong. If they don’t feel like important members of your family, they’ll look for other ways to play that role. The most obvious alternative to family membership is the peer group, the extreme example being gangs.

On the website, ex-gang members serving long prison sentences tell their stories in an attempt to discourage a new generation of teens from making the same mistakes. Among the top reasons they say kids join is “Some find a feeling of caring and attention in a gang. It becomes almost a family to them.”

A 15-year-old boy looking for advice writes, “I would like to ask a prisoner why he/she joined a gang besides respect or love. I was wondering if there are other reasons why people today are joining. I was thinking about joining because I feel like a misfit in my family. I am the only one in my family that makes bad grades, does drugs, drinks etc. No one else in my family has done them. (

My friend with the grown kids says they remember their outdoor adventures as an antidote to the teen culture. Looking back they say, “We were never tempted to drugs or drinking because we had tasted the high of nature and the mountains, in the context of family love.” When kids identify with their family they have:

  • security from knowing they belong to a group
  • strength — it’s easier to resist peer pressure when they know other people beyond their friends are counting on them
  • perspective — life is about more than the issues discussed in the locker room

When we were dating we heard a pastor talk about the importance of teaching his kids how to have genuine fun. He wanted them to so enjoy their time together as a family, doing family activities, that when friends would come along to invite his offspring to go carousing, breaking windows and other unlawful things, they’d recognize the sham and say so: “Fun? That’s not fun! Fun is skiing for the weekend, reading a good book or going to a ball game.”
If membership in your family is fun, challenging and important — something valuable — your kids will be less likely to pull away.

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