Six Functions of the Family

A functional family is one in which family members:

o    fulfill their agreed upon roles and responsibilities;

o    treat each other with respect and affection; and

o    meet each other’s needs.

1. Socialization

o    The process by which children learn to become human and adopt certain behaviour.

o    Children learn from what they see and experience in their developing years.

o    Since children spend most of their early years only interacting with their family members, the family unit has the greatest impact on development.

Socialization and Language:

o    The ability to speak a language is one way to prove the impact a family can have on socialization.

o    Children pick up the language of their parents by imitating the sounds of their parents.

o    If no language is developed at a young age, it is very difficult to establish communication skills later.

  Socialization Proof – Feral Children

o    Another way to prove that children learn language and behaviour from families is through studying feral children.

o    These are children who have been deprived of human contact during their early developing years.

o      One case involves two girls in India that were said to be raised by wolves.

They had no language but growled, yelped, and murmured.

They could not stand erect.

They did not use their hands to eat but lowered their heads instead.

 2. Rules of behaviour

o    These types of cases show that human interaction is required for children to acquire human behaviour.

o    The family teaches appropriate behaviour, what to expect, and how to interact in everyday life.


o    Charles Cooley argued that we learn emotions such as love, pity, pride, sympathy, generosity, guilt and a sense of right and wrong, are taught to us by our family.

o    One study showed that the emotional health of students was directly related to the relationship between parents. So even emotional health is taught to us.

3. Patterns of interaction

o    Studies also show that children that have been deprived of close family relationships which lead to emotional problems as adults.

o    This forms a cycle as these adults may have trouble meeting the emotional needs of their future families.

Evidence: Abuse cycle:

o    Families who have abusive relations are prone to more abusive behaviours.

o    Studies have shown that as children grow if they are taught to express violence when angry, they will continue this behaviour throughout their lives unless they are re-socialized by choice.

o    Children also learn how to deal with problems from the example of their parents

o    EX. Children with parents that smoke are also more likely to smoke.

o    Parents are role models for their children: both positive and negative.

4. Emotional support

o    Students from parents that have a loving relationship, and are supportive, have a more positive self image and were also more confident.

o    Students from families that have distrust  and hostility are more likely to have a negative self image and emotional problems.

5. Reproductive Function

o     In order for a society to continue to exist it must replace those people that die.

o     The family is responsible for raising children to become contributing members of society.

o     In many advanced countries, families are choosing to have less children.

o     Birth control has made choice possible since the 1970’s.

o    In Canada we have an aging population.  This means less young people and more older people.

n     We will need to increase immigration to fulfill jobs such as doctors, nurses etc.

n     There will be greater demand for healthcare since most people will be older.

n     Younger people will have to pay more taxes to maintain standard of living.

6. Economic Function

o    Families are the means whereby children are supplied with the necessities – food, shelter and clothing.

o    In the past, children were needed to work on farms and help provide for the family at an early age.

o    Today children are normally dependant on the family until after high school.

  Family Dysfunction

Failure to provide:

o    When families fail to provide any of the necessary element of these functions, over time or repeatedly, they are considered to be dysfunctional.

o    This can lead to emotional, social, and/or developmental difficulties for the family members.

A dysfunctional family is one where the main family functions-providing love and support, and sharing responsibilities-are absent.

o    This can occur when a parent is an alcoholic or neglectful, a teenager steals to support a drug habit, or everyone in the family screams or is physically, emotionally, sexually, or psychologically abusive to each other.