Academic journal article Family Relations

Adolescents' Precocious and Developmentally Appropriate Contributions to Their Families' Weil-Being and Resilience in Five Countries

Academic journal article Family Relations

Adolescents' Precocious and Developmentally Appropriate Contributions to Their Families' Weil-Being and Resilience in Five Countries

Article excerpt

An exploratory qualitative study of 16 disadvantaged youth in 5 countries suggests that making both precocious and developmentally appropriate contributions to their families' well-being is advantageous to adolescents coping with chronic adversity. All youth were known to be doing well (as identified by community advisors) and showed patterns of contribution that provided instrumental support to parents, siblings, and extended family members in culturally relevant ways. Data were gathered using in-depth interviews, photo-elicitation, and the filming of 1 full day in the life of each youth. Youth reported that their experiences of precocious (synonymous with processes of adultification) and developmentally appropriate contribution facilitate their access to resources that nurture and sustain their well-being. This process of contribution is discussed as one aspect of resilience. Both youth and their caregivers coconstructed acts of contribution as helpful to young people's psychosocial development in contexts where youth are exposed to multiple risks.

Key Words: adultification, cultural diversity, family relationships, parentification, precocious contribution, resilience, youth.

When Jurkovic, Morrell, and Casey (2001) examined the biographies of political and cultural elites such as President Lyndon Baines Johnson and Marlene Dietrich in the United States, they found that children's instrumental and emotional contributions to the welfare of their parents (parentification) was reported as both a common and worthwhile experience. Controversially, Jurkovic et al. concluded: "Parentification appears endemic to family life. It is not tantamount to pathology and, indeed, frequently characterizes adaptive family relationships, particularly during stressful periods" (p. 130, emphasis added). Although a parent's dependence on his or her child may threaten a child's psychosocial development (a weakened sense of security, narcissism, etc.; McMahon & Luthar, 2007; Peris, Goeke-Morey, Cummings, & Emery, 2008), the ascendance of the child in the family hierarchy can also influence positively a child's potential for career and life success when families are poorly resourced or under stress (Burton, 2007; Hooper, Maratta, & Lanthier, 2008; Rama & Richter, 2007).

This need for contextual sensitivity when understanding children's development is also typical of studies of resilience (Rutter, 2008). Although an aspect of positive youth development such as the opportunity to make a contribution (Lerner, 2006) predicts prosociality for all young people, what that contribution looks like and its function as protective processes depends on the level of adversity a family experiences (Ungar, 2011). In affluent countries, processes that invert parent-child roles are considered damaging to a youth's psychosocial development (Cohen, 2001). When contextual factors are accounted for, however, children's contributions may change from a sign of family dysfunction to a valued source of support to a family in need (Jurkovic, 1997; Jurkovic et al., 2001).

The nature of young people's contributions to their families and the impact these have on their capacity to cope with adversity have not been well studied in different adverse contexts. Our research aimed to provide a critical look at children's precocious and developmentally appropriate contributions within their families, whether those contributions invert, flatten, or maintain parent-child hierarchies. Qualitative data (videos of a day in the life of each adolescent, photo-elicitation, and transcripts of interviews) were used to explore how atypical family roles can help immediate and extended family members fulfill child-care and household management responsibilities. The use of a constructivist grounded theory approach to the study's design and data analysis (Charmaz, 2006) helped us to explore the localized, culturally divergent understandings of these contribution patterns and their relationship to resilience. …

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