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Recent research shows that the importance of the family unit is growing instead of waning. With the advent of the concept of family systems, the importance of the family unit can now be approached from a different perspective. This renewed importance stems from the fact that the circumstances that prevail within a family affect the development of its members either negatively or positively. Therefore, holistic or healthy development requires an ambient environment that is found within the setting of a healthy family system. This paper explores the concept of family systems and their relationship with development.
Mönkediek and Bras (2014) describe a family as a basic social unit that consists of individuals who are linked by blood or purpose. A system, on the other hand, refers to a set of interconnected elements that constitute a complex unit (Relvas, Alarcão & Pereira, 2013). The concept of systems has been applied to the family unit to come up with the idea of family systems. Thus, a family system is a unit of interconnected individuals united by blood or a common sense of purpose. Healthy development, for its part, refers to the right combination of social, emotional, intellectual, language, motor, and physical growth.
Effects of Healthy Family Systems on Development
Family systems have been found to be fundamental contributors to development. From the family systems perspective, the behavior of one member affects or elicits reactions from all other members of the system. This scenario stems from the fact that in a family system, each member has a specific role to play. Therefore, a failure to play one’s role as expected translates to a variety of effects on different members of the system.
Therefore, when all members of a family system discharge their roles as expected, the resultant family environment is often stimulating and supportive (Harden, 2004). Such an environment fosters emotional and psychological health by ensuring that all the emotional and psychological needs are available to all family members. Additionally, Relvas, Alarcão, and Pereira (2013) note that attributes, such as warmth, family cohesion, emotional availability, and good parenting practices, which characterize healthy family systems, facilitate healthy development by helping individuals establish proper relationships, enjoy good health, and perform well academically.
Healthy relationships are possible because there are trust and mutual understanding among family members. Good health, on the other hand, results from the fact that in a healthy family system, the health care needs of each member are met as they arise. Finally, good academic performance is made possible by the fact that within healthy family systems, one finds support and stimulation, which facilitate the unhampered development of the brain, cognitive abilities, language skills, and motor skills (Harden, 2004). All these dimensions of development combine to ensure that physical, emotional, social, and spiritual maturation occurs in members of healthy family systems.
Attributes of Healthy Family Systems
Apparently, healthy family systems facilitate the development of individuals. Therefore, outlined below are some of the attributes that set them apart. Harden (2004) notes that stability is one of the key features of a healthy family system. Family systems always seek an equilibrium point, and once they find it, they tend to resist any changes that try to interfere with it (Enrique, Howk & Huitt, 2007). However, this does not mean that a healthy family system is rigid in nature.
Flexibility also features an important aspect of a healthy family system (Peterson, n.d.). A flexible family system is able to adapt to necessary change without disintegrating (Harden, 2004). Additionally, healthy family systems are characterized by a clear sense of direction and effective communication among their members (Peterson, n.d.). Relvas, Alarcão, and Pereira (2013) argue that the health of a family system is determined not by the absence of behavioral problems but by the presence of the outlined characteristics.
Consequences of Unhealthy Family Systems
Individuals who grow up in families that lack the outlined attributes often face some developmental challenges. Harden (2004) notes that unhealthy family systems are characterized by neglect, physical abuse, sexual abuse, violence, and poor communication among their members. A combination of these negative attributes can lead to delays in the development of cognitive, language, and academic abilities (Harden, 2004). Additionally, aggressive behavior, introversion, and post-traumatic stress disorder are also associated with unhealthy family systems (Harden, 2004).
In light of this brief discourse, it is apparent that the importance of the family unit has increased with the emergence of the family systems concept. Today, a family is important not only as a basic building block of the society but also as a fundamental contributor to individual development. As such, the family systems perspective should be encouraged to give the society well behaved and healthy individuals. A failure to appreciate and encourage the development of healthy family systems can only lead to an increase in individuals with behavior problems. Therefore, society should strive to guard against this negative trend for the sake of posterity.
Enrique, J., Howk, H., & Huitt, W. (2007). An overview of family development. Educational Psychology Interactive. Valdosta, GA: Valdosta State University. Web.
Harden, B. J. (2004). Safety and stability for foster children: A developmental perspective. The Future of Children, 14 (1), 31-47.
Mönkediek, B., & Bras, H. (2014). Strong and weak family ties revisited: Reconsidering European family structures from a network perspective. History of the Family, 19(2), 235-259.
Peterson, G. (n.d.). Characteristics of healthy family systems. Web.
Relvas, A., Alarcão, M., & Pereira, M. M. (2013). Family and systems therapy and training in Portugal. Contemporary Family Therapy: An International Journal, 35(2), 296-307.