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The Relationship Between Family Systems and Healthy Development

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The Relationship between Family Systems and Healthy Development
Meriqua D. White
Liberty University

The Relationship between Family Systems and Healthy Development Family systems can have a positive or negative, direct or indirect effect upon the development of children. Though many environmental influences play a role in a child's life, the influence of the family system or family structure is by far the most important. Inside the context of a family, a child learns to respond and interact within a social context (Feldman, 248-249); begin to understand how others think and reason about behaviour (Feldman, 250-251); learn to deal with the parenting styles within that family (Feldman, 252-254); and sadly, some children experience neglect, abuse, crime, and violence and are forced to learn what it means to be resilient and to overcome (Feldman, 255-258).
What Is a Healthy Family System? Barnhill (1979) notes eight dimensions of a healthy family system: individuation vs. enmeshment, mutuality vs. isolation, flexibility vs. rigidity, stability vs. disorganization, clear vs. unclear or distorted perception, clear vs. unclear or distorted communication, role reciprocity vs. unclear roles or role conflict, and clear vs. diffuse or breached generational boundaries. These eight dimensions denote that children have a stable, balanced environment in which to grow and learn. Children learn to interact with family members and with others outside the family unit better if parents provide a warm, supportive environment and strong, positive relationships are encouraged (Feldman, 252).
What Distinguishes a Healthy Family System from an Unhealthy One? An unhealthy family system is one in which the opposite in the above paragraph is done. A child who grows up in a family that is isolated and lacks a strong support system could grow up feeling insecure, struggle with learning disabilities, have to face various forms of mental instability, and be less trusting of their environment (Lynch, 1998). An unhealthy family system is also marked by uninvolved parents. Uninvolved parents are those who show no interest in their children's lives and activities and are detached emotionally, spiritually, and socially (Feldman, 253). A healthy family system is also determined by child-rearing practices in different cultures. What may be acceptable in one culture may not be acceptable in another culture. For example, parents in China are considered good parents if they are strict and in control of their children's behavior. Parents in America, however, tend to use more authoritative methods, meaning they set limits and hold high expectations but they are also responsive, engaged, interest, and emotionally available for their children (Feldman, 254).

Barnhill, L.R. (1979). Healthy Family Systems. The Family Coordinator, 28 (1), pp. 94-100. National Council on Family Relations.
Feldman, Robert S. (2014). Development across the life span (7th ed.) Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Education, Inc.
Lynch, M., and Cicchetti, D. An ecological-transactional analysis of children and contexts: The longitudinal interplay among child maltreatment, community violence, and children's symptomatology. Development and Psychopathology (1998) 10:235–57.
Roehlkepartain, E.C., King, P.E., Wagner, L., & Benson, P.L. (Eds.). (2006). The handbook of spiritual development in childhood and adolescence. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications.
Spinazzola, J. (2014). Childhood Psychological Abuse as Harmful as Sexual or Physical Abuse. American Psychological Association. releases/2014/10/psychological-abuse.aspx.

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