The Family's Influence on Identity

By Stacy Tabb
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Children develop their sense of self from the environment in which they grow up. Usually, the family environment plays a large role in shaping the identity of children as they grow into adolescence and become adults. The way family members relate to one another and operate together as a social group can shape a child's self-esteem, socialization, and cultural identity. Also, a report by Sue Flanigan at West Virgina University points to the possibility that birth order can have an influence in shaping a child's self-perception.

Gender Roles

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A 1997 report by Susan D. Witt, Ph.D., shows that male and female children are likely to view their gender roles in the same way that their parents do. For example, parents who raise children with the idea that boys should perform tasks like mowing the lawn, painting the fence and taking out the trash, while girls should do the dishes, cook dinner, and clean the house, are likely to have kids who identify with these stereotypes throughout their lives. Children who grow up with parents who encourage more androgynous gender roles do not identify themselves with stereotypical male or female stereotypes and have been shown to receive more encouragement from parents. These kids tend to be more flexible in their relationships and have higher self-esteem.

Cultural Identity

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Children who grow up in families with prominent ethnic traditions are more likely to identify with their ethnicity that those who do not, according to a study by Linda Juang in the June 2010 issue of Journal of Adolescence. The study compared 225 participants who were entering into adulthood. The study also showed that daughters more strongly identified with their ethnicity that did sons. These findings confirm that the family environment continues to affect self-perception as individuals enter into adulthood.

Self-Esteem

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Parents who are more responsive to their children, more encouraging, and who offer more support will most likely develop a child who has a higher level of self-esteem. Conversely, a more critical parenting style leads to the development of an individual with lower self-esteem, especially when criticisms are directed towards a child's physical appearance, according to a 1993 study by developmental psychologist Dr. Susan Harter.

Religious Identity

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A 2007 study by Lisa D. Pearce in the Journal of Marriage and Family shows that a mother's religious background has the most influence on children's religious identity as they grow into adulthood. The adult child will most likely attend religious services and adopt his mother's religious attitudes in his new home and family.

About the Author

Stacy Tabb began writing in 2001, specializing in business and human resources. She has written web content and other communication materials for a large Fortune 500 company. She spent two years at Northeastern University's School of Journalism before completing her bachelor's degree in psychology at Westfield State College in Massachusetts.