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Parentification of Children and Short and Long Term Results
Parentification a term used to define the role reversal between parent and child. This means that a child is forced to act as parent to his or her parent. A child will become the emotional support system and/ or caretaker for their parent in a parentified relationship.
Obviously this process can have significant short and long-term effects on the development and growth of a child. The reasons behind a parentified relationship will differ. It is, of course, not a parent’s plan to have a child to use them as a parent figure in their lives (regardless of the child’s age), but unfortunately some circumstances cause this to happen, and it is not an uncommon occurrence in the US.
Short Term Effects
There are a myriad of short-term effects that occur as a result of parentification. Adolescence is an overwhelming time in a young person’s life. It is a time that requires significant outside support, especially from a teen’s parents. If a young person is put into a position where he or she must support the emotional needs of his or her parent, that leaves little room for the teen to allocate time to personally emotionally grow and develop. This can result in an inability to relate to age appropriate peers, affecting one’s social development and friendships. Additionally, it places intense pressure on a young person, forced to rise to the occasion to emotionally and in some cases physically care for their parent or parents. This can lead to poor hygiene practices, lack of sleep, poor eating habits, and possibly dangerous consequences (i.e. a young person using an oven or stove incorrectly and without supervision). Parentification also robs a young person the chance to actually behave and feel like a carefree child, which can create a distorted sense of self.
Long Term Effects
The development of psychological and mental illness is a common long-term result from parentification. Some of the possible mental illnesses that have been reported to develop from parentification can include the following:
- Restricted psychological development
- Inappropriate guilt
- Extreme anger
Every family dynamic is different, and each child is unique. It is important to note that the possible effects that may result from parentification can differ in severity as well as the development of potential effects.
The dynamics that occur in a young person’s life during adolescence greatly affect and can shape how they function as adults. Overcoming parentification is possible with proper assistance. It is important to the wellbeing of the parentified person to learn that this dynamic is detrimental to their growth and can significantly affect their subsequent relationships. Essentially, a part of an individual who had been parentified as an adolescent was subject to the stunting of certain emotional growth that is meant to occur during one’s adolescence. Working with a mental health professional can help to navigate overcoming parentification and its effects. Mental health professionals can also help an individual learn to integrate and implement tools to manage difficult emotions and life challenges that should have been learned during one’s adolescence.
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- Hooper, L. M., DeCoster, J., White, N., & Voltz, M. L. (2011). Characterizing the magnitude of the relation between parentification and psychopathology: A meta-analysis. Journal of Clinical Psychology, 67, 1028-1043. doi:10.1002/jclp.20807
- Katz, Petracca; J., Rabinowitz (2009). “A retrospective study of daughters’ emotional role reversal with parents, attachment anxiety, excessive reassurance seeking, and depressive symptoms”. The American Journal of Family Therapy. 37: 185-195. doi:10.1080/01926180802405596