The adultization of children: what it is and why it should be avoided

Who I am
Marie-Ange Demory
Author and references

Source: Shutterstock

The adultization of children: what it is and why it should be avoided

In a society that sets increasingly complex objectives and requires to be constantly active and performers, it may happen that children are run over with responsibility which should not belong to thechildhood. A period characterized by lightheartedness, From lightness, from the absence of the proper weights of adulthood. Sometimes it is the parents, even if in good faith, a push children in this direction. We talk about it with Laura Formenti, teacher of Family Pedagogy at the Bicocca University of our city.

In this article

  • Adultization of children: what is meant by this term
  • Link with the infantilization of the parents
  • Why a parent makes this mistake
  • Adultization in the 0-3 or 3-6 age groups: can we already talk about it?
  • Adultization 6-12: risks for boys and girls
  • How to re-establish boundaries and understand what is appropriate for each age

Adultization of children: what is meant by this term

What is meant by this term?

"In every culture they exist expectations on what a child can and should do's and don'ts, so this term changes its meaning depending on the context, changes in time and sometimes even from family to family. For example, it is scandalous for us to think that a six-year-old contributes to economic sustenance of the family, while my mother at that age worked in the shop with her parents, my grandparents. Having said that, the term adultization is used when a child behaves as if he were much bigger. Sometimes in common parlance it is said: "he is already a little man, he is already a little woman". An adultized child worries about matters he shouldn't worry about. He takes charge of family problems. His mind is occupied with adult things, which deprive him of lightheartedness typical of childhood ". 

Link with the infantilization of the parents

Is there a link with the infantilization of the parents?

"Adultization can arise from very different situations, even opposite. It can show up when the parents are infantile and the child does takes care of mom or dad. Or on the contrary in the presence of parents very rigid, set, normative, of which the child replicates the behavior by imitation. It can arise in particular conditions, for example in the case in which the child frequents more adults than children her age: for example, I have always spent a lot of time alone reading, I have always been a "big" child. There are also different ways in which adultization is expressed. It may cause suffering, could be tax, or on the contrary it can also be experienced a lot quietly and serenely by the children. It is not certain that if my child speaks like an adult there is a problem: it depends. There are children who seem to manifest this attitude in spontaneous way, and it is not in itself wrong, because children are part of the family and it is right that they should take action to give their contribution. In this regard, I recommend reading an interesting volume by the Danish psychotherapist Jesper Jul, "The child is competent ". What a parent can do is observe the child and try to understand what makes him feel good, thing loves and how it expresses its characteristics in a unique way ".

Why a parent makes this mistake

When, on the other hand, it is the parent who pushes the child towards adult behavior, why does he tend to do so?

"Parents today suffer a lot pressures which lead them to have expectations very strong and to live what is called intensive parenting: 24 hours a day, 24 days a week, are focused on educate children, to offer stimuli, to make them become highly performing in turn to meet the very high expectations of society. When this action becomes exaggerated then the child can develop one very rigid structure. He knows that he must meet expectations and takes on a model that does not necessarily belong to him. In this regard, I refer to another classic: "The drama of the gifted child and the search for the true Self " di Alice Miller. Keep repeating to the child "how gifted you are, how responsible you are" is not a positive reinforcement, but a 'mortgage on his self. Parents do not do it because they are bad: maybe their childhood has not been respected and they reproduce the same model, or simply they believe they are doing good for their children. It is useful to ask: my son he is living his childhood or not? A question that displaces and it helps to see things with more distance ".

Read also: The 5 big problems facing parents today, according to a super English nanny

Adultization in the 0-3 or 3-6 age groups: can we already talk about it?

Can we talk about adultization in the 0-3 and 3-6 age groups?

"Adultization comes with thebeginning of Primary School, therefore starting from six years, because it implies that the child already has one understanding of the context where it is located. In the previous years situations may arise related in particular toaesthetics, to the clothing chosen by parents, to encourage children to look bigger. This mainly concerns the girls and it is definitely accentuated right from the start from six years".

Adultization 6-12: risks for boys and girls

What are the risks for boys and girls aged 6 to 12?

"It may happen that parents involve boys and girls in matters that do not concern them even very early on, for example by asking for a suggestion, for an involvement su family matters, be it the car model to buy or the place to go to holiday. Involvement in itself is good, but the child should not be invested with weight of the organization practice or of consequences of a decision: what is right is listen to his des. More frequent and marked, as I said before, is the impact on girls, who are urged to become women long ahead of time. One comes into play here sexualization precocious of little girls through the clothing, roles and ways of doing: this deprives them of freedom of childhood, also pushing them towards a very limiting gender model".

Read also: Organized parents are happy parents: three points to put into practice

How to re-establish boundaries and understand what is appropriate for each age

How to re-establish boundaries and understand what is appropriate for each age?

"Let's go back to the theme of context. Each family has its own rules, it depends on educational model but also by the circles they frequent. I, for example, have asked my children to be a lot autonomous precociously, but I don't think I have adultized them; if anything, empower yourself. The suggestion I can give is related to reflexivity: you must always be clear what is being done and why, what are the motivations and justifications for the behavior put in place. The goal is to become one more parent flexible. Let's ask ourselves:

  • because do I make this educational choice?
  • What effects does it have on my son, my daughter?

I also recommend to confronting other parents, so as not to close himself in his own world. It is always useful to question yourself and relax your strategies. Finally, you always have to observe and listen to the child, grasp any small ones signs of suffering and be ready to change course".

The interviewee

Full Professor of General and Social Pedagogy, Laura Formenti teaches Pedagogy of the Family and Pedagogical Consultancy at the Department of Human Sciences for Education of the Bicocca University of our city. She directs the Master "The good practices of educational work in minor communities", coordinates the Permanent Research Laboratory Pe.Tra.Lab. (Pedagogy of the Transformations of Work) and is President of RUIAP, University Network of the Paesena for Lifelong Learning.

  • children education
  • child psychology
add a comment of The adultization of children: what it is and why it should be avoided
Comment sent successfully! We will review it in the next few hours.