Robyn Fivush is a professor of developmental psychology at Emory University in Atlanta. Her research focuses on family storytelling and the relations among memory, narrative, identity, trauma, and coping.
Fivush and her Emory colleague Marshall Duke developed the “Do You Know…?” scale (sometimes called “The 20 Questions”), designed as a starting point for parents to share family stories with their children.
Research has shown that adolescents who know their family’s history have higher self-esteem, lower levels of behavior problems, a higher sense of self-efficacy (belief in their innate ability to achieve goals) and a more differentiated sense of self (the ability to separate feelings and thoughts).
The 20 questions developed by Fivush and Duke are:
Do you know how your parents met?
Do you know where your mother grew up?
Do you know where your father grew up?
Do you know where some of your grandparents grew up?
Do you know where some of your grandparents met?
Do you know where your parents were married?
Do you know what went on when you were being born?
Do you know the source of your name?
Do you know some things about what happened when your brothers or sisters were being born?
Do you know which person in your family you look most like?
Do you know which person in the family you act most like?
Do you know some of the illnesses and injuries that your parents experienced when they were younger?
Do you know some of the lessons that your parents learned from good or bad experiences?
Do you know some things that happened to your mom or dad when they were in school?
Do you know the national background of your family (such as English, German, Russian, etc.)?
Do you know some of the jobs that your parents had when they were young?
Do you know some awards that your parents received when they were young?
Do you know the names of the schools that your mom went to?
Do you know the names of the schools that your dad went to?
Do you know about a relative whose face “froze” in a grumpy position because he or she did not smile enough?
Fivush stresses that it is not the specific answers that are important; rather, the value lies in the process of asking and telling, and establishing a family tradition of understanding shared history.
And, as Fivush and Duke point out, these 20 questions are just a beginning. Family members can create additional questions that facilitate an exploration of their own unique history.