While research suggests that young adults are taking longer to reach developmental milestones of adulthood than in previous generations, many young adults struggling with mental health issues report feeling like they’ve grown up too quickly. Some spent more time with older peers during adolescence and chose to participate in “mature” social activities. Others describe having had to “parenting their parents” or be their own caregivers beginning at a young age, which compromised their ability to participate in age-appropriate activities. When adult-child roles are reversed, kids who have had to raise their parents and siblings struggle with prioritizing their own needs and taking care of personal responsibilities as they try to launch into independence.
What is Adultification?
Adultification occurs when a young person is forced to “grow up before their time.”
Early Adultification manifests in three forms:
- Precocious Knowledge, in which children gain knowledge typically associated with older people. The Internet enables children to access information beyond their years. Sometimes, this can be useful in holding mature conversations with adults, but it can also introduce them to “grown up” activities, like substance use and sex before they are ready to explore either.
- Peerification describes the process in which children gain status equal to that of their parents. They are more likely to share interests with their parents, spend more time with their parents’ friends, and be seen as their parent’s confidante. As children are seen as their parents’ peers, parents may assume that their child’s impulse control and decision-making skills should be better developed, which can lead to unrealistic behavioral expectations.
- Parentification refers to expecting children to step up as caregivers in the household due to their parents’ financial struggles, mental health issues, marital problems or availability. This may include assuming housekeeping duties, taking care of their siblings or parents, listening to their parents’ problems and offering advice, or mediating between family members.
Don’t These Experiences Make Them More Mature?
Adultification is not uncommon among single-parent households, divorced families, dual-earner households, and families with one child. Often, the child receives positive messages that they are mature enough to handle adult responsibilities and expectations. However, it is important for teens to recognize that they are not yet prepared to act as a friend or a partner to their parents. They may be willing to fill these roles quickly, but they need guidance and nurturing to do so successfully.
It’s fine for kids to help out around the house or care for younger siblings sometimes, or even for a parent if they ask for specific support. Taking on family responsibilities can give a child a sense of satisfaction and competence. The key difference is that helping out at home should not disrupt their academic studies, peer relationships, or the other “work” of growing up.
Some children who take on more adult-like roles may develop a strong work ethic, resiliency, and self-efficacy, but, when taken to the extreme, many struggle with anxiously caring for others, compulsively overworking, and striving to juggle their personal responsibilities with their role of confidant at home, which can lead to failure to launch.
Doesn’t This Prepare Them More for Adulthood?
As adultified children spend most of their adolescence taking on adult responsibilities and consequences, they often miss out on formative milestones in adolescence. In young adulthood, they may try to catch up on “traditional” adolescent experiences or let go of responsibilities in order to heal from these experiences.
Long-term effects of adultification may include:
- Inability to trust others
- Involvement in unhealthy relationships
- Compulsive overworking to fulfill responsibilities at school and home
- Isolation from peers
- Difficulty functioning independently
- Greater risk of anxiety, depression, substance use, and eating disorders
Treatment Options for Failure to Launch
- Set boundaries with parents. Many young adults struggle become fully independent as they believe that they are still responsible for taking caring of their family. While these responsibilities may have taught them how to be independent at a young age, they reinforce dependency as children grow up and worry that their personal goals may conflict with their family’s wellbeing. Through family therapy, young adults explore healthy boundaries with parents as independent adults.
- Teach practical life skills. In addition to daily living and housekeeping, many young adults struggle with organizational responsibilities of adulthood. This includes budgeting, time management, keeping commitments, and job skills. In a transitional living environment, teens have the opportunity to apply these skills with the guidance of mentors. A common issue that the people we work with face is finding a balance between procrastinating tasks and overdoing them by setting realistic personal expectations.
- Discuss recreation goals. Many young adults who have struggled with depression and social isolation have experienced a loss of interest in activities they used to enjoy or don’t have many healthy hobbies. At Journey Home Young Adult, we conduct Recreation Assessments to help girls and assigned female at birth identify potential activities that align with their personal values. Participating in recreation activities helps girls and assigned female at birth establish healthier coping mechanisms and allows them to reconnect with their “inner child.”
Journey Home Young Adult Can Help
Journey Home Young Adult is a transitional living program for teens ages 18-23. This program addresses emotional, behavioral, and mental health disorders that teens may face. Common presenting problems include: depressive disorders, anxiety disorders, body image issues, ADHD and other learning issues, academic struggles and low self-esteem. Journey Home creates an environment conducive to healing where teens can learn healthy coping skills while becoming more well-equipped to launch into adulthood. Students leave this program feeling empowered, happy, and healthy.
Contact us at 801-444-0794.