Parentification and its impact on adolescent children of parents with AIDS

Fam Process. 1999 Summer;38(2):193-208. doi: 10.1111/j.1545-5300.1999.00193.x.


Parentification refers to children or adolescents assuming adult roles before they are emotionally or developmentally ready to manage those roles successfully. We assess predictors and outcomes of parentification among adolescent children of Parents with AIDS (PWAs) in two phases. In Phase 1, relationships among parental AIDS-related illness, parent drug use, parent and adolescent demographics, and parentification indicators (parental, spousal, or adult role-taking) were assessed among 183 adolescent-parent pairs (adolescents: 11 to 18 years, M = 14.8 years, 54% female; parents: 80% female). Adult role-taking was associated with maternal PWAs, female adolescents, and greater parent drug use. Greater parental AIDS-related illness predicted more spousal and parental role-taking. Parent drug use predicted more parental role-taking. In Phase 2, we examined the impact of parentification on later adolescent psychological adjustment (N = 152 adolescents). Adult role-taking predicted more internalized emotional distress; parental role-taking predicted externalized problem behaviors: sexual behavior, alcohol and marijuana use, and conduct problems. Given these dysfunctional outcomes, we discuss interventions to mitigate parentification among children of PWAs.

Publication types

  • Case Reports
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome / psychology*
  • Adolescent
  • Adolescent Behavior / psychology*
  • Adult
  • Child
  • Family Health
  • Female
  • Follow-Up Studies
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Marriage / psychology
  • Middle Aged
  • Parent-Child Relations
  • Parenting*
  • Parents / psychology*
  • Psychology, Adolescent
  • Role
  • Sexual Behavior / psychology