In today’s world, families are dynamic and interdependent systems. The developmental processes of the children in the family are deeply affected by how the family system operates. However, a family’s structure does not determine whether it is a healthy family system or not. Today, families consist of single parents, stepparents, divorced parents, remarried parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles. They are all able to contribute to a healthy functioning family system by meeting each family member’s needs and encouraging positive communication (Jamiolkowski, 2008). Unhealthy family systems have negative and possibly long-term effects on a child, both physically and emotionally. An unhealthy family system affects brain development and social development. Moreover, parents hold a particularly important part in their child’s spiritual development. When a family system lacks spiritual modeling, the children do not develop a spiritual relationship and lack religious meaning in their family life (Roehlkepartain, King, Wagener, Benson, 2006). Healthy Family Systems
A healthy family system is a family unit in which each members has their needs met. These needs include safety, security, survival, love and belonging, as well as self-esteem and developmental skills. In a healthy family structure, the family members share a love for one another, respect each other and follow a set of rules that protect and maintain the welfare and development of each family member (Jamiolkowski, 2008). A happy and healthy family system has open communication between family members. Opinions and ideas are encouraged. Since children in a healthy family system are encouraged to communicate their wants and needs, they are confident enough to speak up in family matters. This helps develop a positive and confident self-identity. The children in the family are taught a core group of values to establish right from wrong, as well as personal boundaries.
Rules, which must be applied, are enforced fairly and consistently, but are flexible. A healthy family system makes a child feel cared for, validated and valued. Supportive parenting is a term used to describe parents whose authoritative parenting style is firm, with clear and consistent limits, but with warmth, proactive teaching, interest and involvement in their child’s peer activities, as well as calm discussions while disciplining. Authoritative parents tend to be firm and set clear and consistent limits. Although strict, they are loving and supportive, and communicate to the child the rationale for their punishment, along with an explanation for why they should behave a certain way. This encourages independence in the child (Feldman, 2014).
Research has shown that healthy friendships in which close ties emerge are developed when parents provide a warm and supportive home environment (Feldman, 2014). Children emulate positive social interactions and roles, which they learn from the adults in their lives who they model after. Children living in healthy family systems develop a strong and positive relationship with their parents or caregiver and will encourage positive relationships with others. Unhealthy Family Systems
The parenting style in the home will result in differences in the children’s behavior. For example, an authoritarian parent is controlling, punitive and strict. Their rules are not flexible and do not tolerate expressions of disagreement. These children tend to be withdrawn with little sociability. Girls are usually especially dependant on the parents, while boys tend to be unusually hostile. On the other hand, permissive parenting provides a relaxed and inconsistent method of discipline. They place little to no limits or control on how their children behave, and require little of their children. These children also tend to be dependent and moody, low in social skills and self-control (Feldman, 2014). It can sometimes be difficult to discern whether a family system is healthy or not.
Even healthy family members can become understandably upset by circumstances and don’t always deal with stressful situations well. However, an unhealthy family system is usually created by one or more members. Parents who were raised in unhealthy family systems may carry over the same traits to their own families. Also, other factors that can cause an unhealthy family system is a parent or main caregiver with a serious problem such as mental illness, alcohol abuse or drug addiction. This causes communication in the family to be strained and distorted. Opinions and ideas are discouraged and usually ignored. Usually children deal with mixed messages and conflicting ideas, making it harder for them to discern between appropriate and inappropriate behavior. They develop poor personal boundaries and have a hard time participating in loving relationships (Jamiolkowski, 2008). Effects of an Unhealthy System
Children in unhealthy family systems usually suffer from one or more forms of abuse. This can range from physical abuse to psychological abuse or neglect. At least five children are killed each day by their parent or caregiver, and about 3 million children are abused or neglected each year in the United States (Feldman, 20124). Abuse, at any level causes long-term and permanent effects on the development of a child. Physically abused children are more likely to be resistant to control and do not adapt well to new situations. They suffer from more headaches and stomach aches than the average child. They also experience frequent bed-wetting, suffer from high anxiety and may show developmental delays. Psychological abuse is associated with low self-esteem, lying, underachievement in school, and misbehavior.
They can easily become depressed and are at high risk for suicide. Victims of physical and psychological abuse suffer from so many consequences because their brain goes through permanent changes due to the abuse. Childhood abuse can lead to a reduction in the size of the amygdala and hippocampus. Antisocial behaviors are caused by the overstimulation of the limbic system through the feeling of stress, fear or terror (Feldman, 2014). It is likely that the child’s parents will influence their religious and spiritual development. This is done through verbal communication, induction and indoctrination of beliefs with the help of disciplinary tactics as well as rewards (Roehlkepartain, King, Wagener, Benson, 2006). Therefore, parents have the important task of guiding their children through their spiritual development.
However, if the parent makes their child’s spiritual experience a negative one, it may make the child rebel. This can occur when the parents show fanaticism towards a certain belief or religion (Jamiolkowski, 2008). Parents should apply spiritual modeling, in which children model their parents’ spiritual behavior. This can include engaging in activities that promote religious and spiritual development and performing religiously motivated charity for others. These kinds of family routines and traditions help form the religious meaning in family life (Roehlkepartain, King, Wagener, & Benson, 2006). Conclusion
Maintaining a healthy family system is key for raising a confident, loving and emotionally balanced child. A healthy family system provides a positive and safe home environment which promotes communication and respect between parents and children. Supportive parents uphold rules in a consistent, yet flexible manner while explaining to the child the reasoning and lesson behind the consequence. In an unhealthy family system, children sometimes endure physical and psychological abuse, as well as neglect. This affects brain development, as well as emotional and social development. Children from unhealthy family systems are usually dependent on the parents, have withdrawn personalities or are aggressive. They are unable to create personal and lasting relationships outside of the home, including those at a spiritual level. If the parents do not show positive religious and spiritual role modeling at home, the child will likely not take an interest in it as well.
Feldman, R. S. (2014). Development across the life span (7th ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson.
Jamiolkowski, R.M. (2008). Coping in a Dysfunctional Family. New York: Rosen Pub. Group Roehlkepartain, King, Wagener, & Benson (2006). The handbook of spiritual development in childhood and adolescence. Thousand Oaks: SAGE Publication.
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