Familial Disconnect and its Harmful Impact

A family on the beach (Image via Unsplash)

Family is one of the most important things in a person’s life. Along with language and culture, family binds us.

Family is defined by the Merriam-Webster Dictionary as “the basic unit of society traditionally consisting of two parents rearing their children.”

While family is traditionally defined as parents and children, it could also be a close group of people in a household or common space. Many people don’t have families and those that do have them can suffer from a familial disconnect when they are separated. 

Few people are as separated from language, family and culture as Cross-Cultural Kids (CCKs) and Third-Culture Kids (TCKs). To be a Cross-Cultural Kid one must have had meaningful interactions with two or more cultures for a significant period of time during childhood. Third-Culture Kids are people who spent their developmental years outside of their parent’s passport culture.

CCKs and TCKs are culturally and globally mobile as they straddle different cultures. While this allows them to have meaningful experiences it can also hinder their sense of belonging and lead to a familial disconnect.

Importance of family

Image of teens a field making hearts with their hands (Image via Unsplash)
Image via Unsplash.

The National Library of Medicine has completed extensive work examining the importance of family during adolescence. Researchers have come to the conclusion that family plays an important role in providing meaningful experiences for adolescents’ development.

The National Literacy Trust has also examined the importance of family. Researchers state that family “positively affects children’s academic performance and is a more powerful force for academic success than other family background variables, such as social class, family size and level of parental education.”

Family is incredibly important to adolescents’ development and mental health. That’s why it’s incredibly detrimental to the health of youth and teens when they suffer from a familial disconnect.

Familial disconnect

Image of person holding photo album looking at family pictures (via Unsplash)
Image via Unsplash.

“This idea of feeling connected becomes very reinforcing, to all of us, and it contributes to happiness, it contributes to mental health and it does contribute also to physical health,” says John Northman, a psychologist from Buffalo, N.Y., U.S.A.

TCKs can live in a litany of places. It’s understandable to assume that they may not be able to stay connected to all those they love in their family as they travel the world. Ruth Van Reken, co-author of one of the first books written about the TCK experience is well aware of the struggles TCKs face. Van Reken writes about how TCKs may suffer from loneliness as a result of family disconnect:

TCKs are often sadly ignorant of national, local, and even family history. How many rides to various relatives’ homes are filled with parents coaching TCKs about who is related to whom? Many kids simply haven’t been around the normal chatter that keeps family members connected.

– Quoted from her book “Third-Culture Kids: The Experience of Growing Up Among Worlds”.

CCKs and TCKs are disconnected from family so they are disconnected from those who are supposed to love and support them unconditionally. This disconnect can have detrimental effects on CCKs and TCKs.

Impact of disconnect

Image of rotary phone (via Unsplash)
Image via Unsplash.

Shelly Maas, a student at Colorado State University, is a TCK, and when they move from country to country TCKs are disconnected from their extended family. It’s hard to stay connected. Maas is the daughter of an international salesman. She has lived in Saudi Arabia, Morocco, China, Japan, South Africa and Canada. 

Maas has never been close to her family outside of her parents and siblings because of her global mobility. She greatly struggled as a result of the familial disconnect. She never felt all that connected to her extended family and even now she finds it hard to connect with others who don’t have the same experiences that she has.

I remember my mother calling my aunts and uncles on the phone and begging me to speak to them. I never really could, I couldn’t understand them and they couldn’t understand me. We spoke the same language but were entirely different people. They had never left their small town in Canada, while I’ve never stayed in a place for more than two years. They would always tell me about the plans they had with my cousins like it wasn’t killing me to hear. I felt so disconnected and they would just rub it in my face. It’s almost like I wasn’t even part of the family. Feeling like that definitely contributed to my low self-esteem and my need to feel loved.

– Shelly Maas on how familial disconnect has impacted her.


Family is not the only thing that Cross-Cultural Kids like Shelly Maas are disconnected from. They are also disconnected from language and culture, two other incredibly important instruments in society. To read about the language disconnect check out Language Disconnect and its Harmful Impact as well as this article in the series examining the disconnect of culture.


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