The “Parentification” Phenomenon as Applied to Adolescents Living Through Parental Military Deployments

Deborah Harrison, Patrizia Albanese


Many children and adolescents care for their family members in some form during their childhoods, but some take on adult roles and responsibilities beyond what is considered to be developmentally appropriate – a situation known in academic and clinical literature as parentification. Much of the literature on parentification comes from the disciplines of psychology and social work, and focuses on what are perceived to be “normal” or “abnormal” child development trajectories. The psychological literature mostly stresses the negative developmental processes that result from youth being prematurely and/or inappropriately exposed to adult roles and responsibilities.  In this paper, we consider the impact of parental deployments on the lives of adolescents growing up in military families on/near a large army base in Canada.  We use data from 61 semi-structured interviews conducted in 2009/10—part of a larger mixed methods research project—to assess the adolescents’ experiences of parental deployments in light of the concept of parentification. We depart from previous literature by taking a sociological approach, which shows that while adolescents take on more adult roles during parental deployments, the impact of this situation upon them varies according to their gender, their relationship with their undeployed parent, and their perception of the support they receive from their school.  For the most part, adolescents whose parents are deployed experience significant quality of life losses.  However, this is not true for every adolescent, and the impact of each loss depends upon the social context in which it occurs.

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Canadian Journal of Family and Youth / Le Journal Canadien de Famille et de la Jeunesse
2008-2014 | ISSN 1718-9748