Continuously confiding in your child ‘damaging’ for their well-being
MANY w ell-meaning pa rents tend to over share what’ s going on in their personal lives with their kids - whether it’s by telling them about their most recent conflict at work or complaining about issues at home with their partner.
But according to psychologists, continuously confiding in your child can be damaging to their long-term emotional well-being. And while an isolated incident of rehashing a bad day at work won’t cause harm, regularly discussing adult problems the way you would with a peer, forces children into inappropriate parenting roles similar to that of proxy therapists or surrogate spouses.
“Children should not be serving the intimate needs of a parent, or placed in the role of secret-keeper ,” says Lisa M. Hoop er, a researcher and professor at the University of Louisville, who has conducted extensive studies on the effects of parent ifi cation-when the parent projects their role onto the child. In divorced families, for instance, parents can fall into the trap of relying on their kid as a“confidant ”- by revealing
Many well-meaning parents tend to overshare what’s going on in their personal lives with their kids - whether it’s by telling them about their most recent conflict at work or complaining about issues at home with their partner. According to psychologists, continuously confiding in your child can be damaging to their long-term emotional wellbeing.
private information in the way of venting about the father/mother, or by having them media te conflicts.
For instance, it’ s not appropriate for am other to say“Your father never follows through on anything, he’ s always disappointing me-I’ m so fed up with him ,” says Juli Fraga, a clinical psychologist in San Francisco. Experts believe this kind of behaviour creates an atmosphere of neglect, because children are made responsible for looking after the emotional and psychological well-being of the parent while sup pressing their normal childhood needs, such as play or friendships with kids their own age.
Hooper not es t hat “when a child starts serving asa friend to the parent, and the parent is getting his or her needs met through the child - that becomes problematic.”
Her research has shown that the effects of childhood parentification can belong lasting and multi generation al. In one study published in the Journal of Family Therapy, data was taken from 783 university students to evaluate the link between their childhood roles and responsibilities with their later adult psychological functioning. The researchers found that people who experienced early parentification area tan increased risk for anxiety, depression, eating disorders, and substance misuse as an adult.
“Parents and caregivers ought to be at the top of the hierarchy in the family system ,” says Hooper. A father who constantly asks his son for relationship advice or complains to him about other family members, for instance, is inverting the role of adult and child, because he’s relying on his kid to provide the same kind of emotional support normally sought from a trusted friend or spouse.
And while it’ s true that children who take on more adultlike roles can have positive outcomes, such as a strong work ethic, resiliency, and self- efficacy -when taken to the extreme, you’ll start to see kids anxiously caring for others, compulsively overworking, and striving to juggle their responsibilities at school with their role of confidant at home.
“A child imbued with a very early sense of responsibility may carry that trait forward with them forever ,” says Gretchen Kubacky, a clinical psychologist and relationship expert in Los Angeles.
Despite good intentions, learning where to draw the line can be especially tricky for parents who want to be seen as their child’ s“best friend .” In many cases, it’s because they have their own history of attachment issues caused by growing up with distant, rigid, or neglectful caregivers-and now tend to overcompensate by becoming overly involved in their kid’s life.
“Friendship is reciprocal, based on a mutual sharing of equanimity and equality ,” says Fraga. And children simply don’t possess the same emotional maturity and understanding that adults do. That’s not to say you shouldn’t be loving and caring - but that you distinguish between being honest and supportive with also maintaining appropriate boundaries.
“Some people tend to see their children not as separate beings, but merely as extensions of themselves ,” she adds .“They don’t have the filter to understand that their kid is seven, not 37.”
Fraga believes that line is being crossed more and more these days with our culture of over sharing on social media and influence sin pop culture. An example of these blur red boundaries can be see non the hit TV series“Gilmore Girls” -where them other-daughter relationship between Rory and Lo rel ai has long been character is ed by an en viable quality of closeness. But as with many parent-child friend ships, the unforeseen consequences don’t show up until after adolescence.
In previous seasons, Lo rel ai comes across asa mother with a penchant for over sharing with her teen daughter-often blurring the line between parent and bud.
This light form of parentification can seem harmless, but fast-forward to a now 32- year-old Rory, and the lax boundaries she shared with her mom come back to haunt her. The new season reboot, “A Year in the Life,” offers a portrait of a Rory who struggles with bouts of anxiety, and difficulty trusting in her own decisions regarding her career and love interests.
“As adults, children who have been parent ifiedt end to lack confidence and[ have] an inability to believe that they can think their way through the simplest of life’s problems,” notes F raga .“It can really eclipse a person’s ability to receive and to beloved as adults, because it’ s too dangerous to let someone in when you’ve been crashed into.”