Parentification: Is Your Child Growing Up Too Fast?
Have you ever noticed your child acting more like a parent and less like a child? If you have, it may not be a good thing.
Every child is on their own path towards maturity. This is a normal and healthy thing that each of us has gone through. Some children begin speaking faster than others. Another child may master riding a 2 wheeler before another. We will all make it to maturity in our own shape or form along the bell curve. Unfortunately, there has been pressure placed on many parents to push their children to go over the big hump faster than what is developmentally appropriate for them. She should always keep an eye on our children’s development and if there’s a marked difference in their development, then that is when we should give them a helping hand.
The truth of the matter is that some children are maturing too quickly for their own health. This is something that we call “parentification” amongst the mental health community. It’s when children take on roles that are traditionally meant for parents instead of being a kid. When in this parent role, they run the risk of developing stress-related illnesses, eating disorders, and mental health problems that we would normally see in adults. There’s a very simple way to find out whether your child is wise beyond their years or on the brink of a mental health crisis. Read more below to find out how it happens and how you can find out if your child may be experiencing parentification.
What Are Some of the Causes of Parentification
According to research as of 2017, there are as many as 1.4 million U.S children ages 8 to 18 that are parentified. The children who are maturing too quickly typically live in single-parent homes with younger siblings, who have parents who struggle with substance abuse problems, or grow up around marital discord. As children tend to internalize things, they feel they need to pick up the slack to make things better. Our children are more sensitive than we believe and pick up on these things and try to help.
Jurkovich has two categories for parentification: adaptive or destructive. Adaptive involves the child taking on an adult-like role for a short period of time, perhaps after a parent becomes sick.
Destructive is a long-term placement in that role of being a parent. It “deviates from the naturalness of roles which differentiates parents and children. The long term can harm children in the long run.
There are two more since Jurkovich’s original research that has come up as well; instrumental and emotional.
Instrumental involves the child completing physical tasks usually reserved for adults such as grocery shopping, caring for sick relatives, and paying bills.
Emotional involves the child acting as a confidante by keeping secrets and calming combative family members.
How to Measure The Maturity Level of Your Child
In 1986, Gregory Jurkovich developed a questionnaire to recognize parentification in children. Several revisions have been made since then however below is the most recent version of this questionnaire. Simply ask your child to answer the following questions with a simple “true” or “false”. You can also perform one on yourself to find out if you may have as well.
1. It seems like family members are always bringing me their problems.
2. In my family, I often feel called upon to do more than my share.
3. I often feel more like an adult than a child in my family.
4. In my family, I often feel like a referee.
5. In my family, I often make sacrifices that go unnoticed by other family members.
6. At times I feel I am the only one my mother or father can turn to.
7. I often find myself feeling down for no particular reason that I can think of.
8. In my family, there are certain family members I can handle better than anyone else.
9. I am very active in the management of my family’s financial affairs.
10. My parents have enough to do without worrying about housework as well.
11. I am very uncomfortable when things aren’t going well at home.
12. It often seems that my feelings aren’t taken into account in my family.
13. In my family, I initiate most free-time activities.
14. I am at my best in times of crisis.
15. It seems like there are enough problems at home without my causing more.
16. If a family member is upset, I almost always become involved in some way.
17. I often resent being asked to do certain kinds of jobs.
18. I often prefer the company of people older than me.
19. I am frequently responsible for the physical care of some members of my family.
20. I am often described as mature for my age.
21. It seems that I am usually the one held responsible for most of what happens.
If the results come back with more than half the responses being true then your child is experiencing parentification. The more ‘true’ answers are received, the more concerned you should be
What Can I Do If My Child is Too Mature?
It’s not an exact science but again the more ‘true’ answers you have from your child, the more you should be concerned. Jurkovich explains that these children grow up to struggle with anger and trust issues as they get older. They also struggle with maintaining romantic relationships as they mature.
The short-term concerns are these children may suffer from eating disorders, anxiety, and other mental health problems. And while some can adapt well and become more resilient, child development specialists all agree that parentification is usually unhealthy.
If you suspect your child may be experiencing this, please don’t hesitate to call us here at Constantly Healthy Counseling. We offer a 15-minute complimentary consultation that can help you determine the best route to resolve these issues for your child. Contact us today!