Feb 24, 2023

Family History Knowledge Helps American Adolescents Develop Healthy Sense of Identity

Teenagers struggling to develop a healthy sense of identity must walk a tightrope, balancing commitment to their family’s values with their own exploration of what matters, most psychologists agree.

A new BYU study suggests that studying family history may help older adolescents find this sweet spot. From a survey of 239 18-to-20-year-old students at seven U.S. universities, researchers found that individuals who had the healthiest identity development — both a sense of connectedness to family and adherence to their own beliefs — also had high levels of family history knowledge.

“Family history knowledge is particularly good at keeping us grounded,” said BYU experience design and management professor Brian Hill, an author of the paper that was published Wednesday in the journal Genealogy. “There are kids who go off and explore their own paths without settling into a value system that can guide them going forward. We need knowledge of where we come from along with individual differentiation from family to find a steady path.”

The surveys in the study assessed whether students knew about the major events and important anecdotes from their parents’ and grandparents’ lives, as well as how developed the students’ identity was based on standard measures — whether they were close with family, how they had arrived at their political and religious views, how they had explored occupational options and how committed they were to their values.

The results indicated that many adolescents have high levels of family history knowledge. About 77% of the participants knew the answers to three-quarters of the family history questions. The more they knew, the more likely they were to have developed a healthy sense of identity. 

You can read more in an article by Christie Allen published in the BYU News at

The full study can be found here: 

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