Did you know that there are about 1.4 million children between ages 8 and 18 who are caregivers in the US? A further look at the information revealed by the American Association of Caregiving Youth reveals that the number of children caregivers is evenly divided between girls and boys.
What might come as a bit of a surprise is that about a third of those are between 8 and 11, and nearly 40 percent are between 12 and 15. That indicates that many children have been given huge responsibilities at a young age which sometimes makes it difficult for them to actually be children.
Caregiving in itself is already a complicated and difficult job so it’s no wonder that sometimes children experience a range of emotions that can be damaging to their mental health. This is especially so because children are still developing mentally and now have the added stress of caregiving while managing school work and some even have to work to support the family member.
A lot of times this may be a family member who is a parent or grandparent. There are also many conditions that can lead to a child having to become a child caregiver including but not limited to Alzheimer’s disease or dementia; heart, lung, or kidney disease; arthritis or diabetes. In some cases, alcoholism and drug abuse can also lead to a situation where a child has to take care of a loved one.
Responsibilities of a child caregiver
Some children are tasked with enormous duties in their capacity as a caregiver. From as young as 12-years-old a child may have to learn how to perform chores such as shopping, fixing meals and household tasks, or keeping the family member company.
Older children may find themselves having to provide hands-on care including helping loved ones with day-to-day activities that may involve bathing, dressing, helping them to use the toilet, getting in and out of bed and chairs, and feeding. In addition, to those duties, in homes where there is no access to vehicles, teens usually have to accompany extremely ill parents who must take public transportation to doctor’s appointments.
The emotional toll on child caregivers
One of the most common symptoms of mental distress that children show when they are given the role of caregiver is called parentification and in some instances, it can become medicalized. That is how the American Psychological Association defines these emotions. There are many organizations that caregivers can reach out to if they feel overwhelmed with the role. We’ve put a few of those links below: