EPIC Blog: Parenting For Teens Who Have Been Parentified - 4KIDS
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EPIC Blog: Parenting For Teens Who Have Been Parentified

June 12th, 2023 l Author: Joshua Bennett, M.A., Registered Mental Health Counselor (edited by Michele Rogan)

What is Parentification? You may have heard of instances where children or teens must grow up and mature quickly due to their family situation or home life. When teens are providing support, whether that be emotional, financial, or physical, to their parent or caregiver, they have been “parentified.”

Unfortunately, some parents seek this support from their older children due to financial strain, a physical illness or crises, an upbringing of abuse, or not having support from their extended family; so they rely on their own children to pick up tasks around the house, care for younger siblings, pay for things, or provide emotional comfort in difficult times. These kids or adolescents are forced to take on adult responsibilities early, which can cause some points of friction when entering a new home. Here are some tips on how to parent a teen that has been parentified:

  1. Maintain Open Lines of Communication. The transition back into the role of a child or youth can be challenging after parentification. This is where it’s important to ask the hard questions and allow your teen to express their emotions. Try asking, “What was it like to have to be a provider?”, or simply acknowledge that the transition can lend itself to feelings of anxiety or stress. Making sure your teen feels comfortable talking to you will build trust in your relationship.
  2. When possible, try to share power. Once the brain is programmed to provide, cook, clean, etc., it can be difficult to unlearn and give up that power and control. Try to find ways to share that power and allow your teens to still feel like they are playing a role in the family. You could do this by allowing them to make lunches the night before school, or sharing input on how their siblings like to be put to bed. Ask them what parts of caregiving they enjoy doing and what responsibilities they would rather have you take over.
  3. Be patient, supportive, and understanding. During this transition, both you and your teen will have to make sacrifices. Remember, your teen has been functioning on an adult level, consumed by the weight of being responsible for not only themselves, but oftentimes their parent and siblings. Releasing that weight and allowing someone else to take control will be a gradual process, and they will need your love and support along the way.

Though the road ahead may be arduous, you are shaping a new future for your teen; allowing him or her to get back time that was lost and experience childhood. Ephesians 4:2 reminds us to, “Always be humble and gentle. Be patient with each other, making allowance for each other’s faults because of your love.”