Strong families lay groundwork for good citizens

family with baby on shoulders 2Contact Karen Bogenschneider, 608-262-4070,

Most Americans can identify ways that families contribute to society. But many might be surprised to know that families can set the stage for a future of more caring, committed citizens.

Studies show that when strong attachment bonds exist between an infant and parent, scientists can predict that the child will later possess qualities that society values. For example, when a mother is reliably available and responsive, children grow up to have more empathy for others; are more self-reliant; and get along better with peers. And at age 15 or 16, these children may also demonstrate characteristics of good citizenship, including leadership, self-confidence and problem-solving skills.

Perhaps most striking, scientists found that the benefits of a strong parent-child relationship carry over to the next generation. Children who experienced positive parenting at age two were good parents to their own two-year-old children.

“Investing in today’s families with young children is like a blue chip stock that pays rich dividends tomorrow,” says Karen Bogenschneider, family policy specialist with the University of Wisconsin-Extension and Rothermel Bascom Professor of Human Ecology at UW-Madison.

In another study, parents participated in one of two 16-week couples groups. In one group, the emphasis was on learning about parent-child issues, while in the other, participants focused more on improving the couple relationship. A year later, the parent-focused group interacted more effectively with their children. But in the couple-focused group, both the parent-child and the couple relationships improved. The children of these parents also had greater school success and fewer behavior problems. And remarkably, these impacts were still evident ten years later.

“The bottom line is that policies and programs can be more effective if they leverage the many contributions that families make for the benefit of their members and the good of society,” says Bogenschneider.

UW-Extension Family Living educators conduct programs on strengthening families, couples relationships and parenting that improve how available and responsive parents are to their children. To learn more about UW-Extension programs for families, contact your UW-Extension office. Contact information is available here.

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