Growing up too soon? Parentification among immigrant and native adolescents in Germany

J Youth Adolesc. 2012 Jul;41(7):880-93. doi: 10.1007/s10964-011-9711-1. Epub 2011 Aug 31.


Parentification (adolescents' adoption of adult family roles by providing instrumental or emotional support for their parents) is assumed to be higher in immigrant than native families. An often discussed reason for parentification is the adolescent-parent acculturation gap in immigrant families whereby immigrant adolescents acculturate faster and outperform their parents socio-culturally. The aim of this multi-informant, multi-group study was to investigate levels, predictors, and psychosocial outcomes of instrumental and emotional parentification. The sample comprised 197 native (adolescents: mean age 14.7 years, 52% female) and 185 ethnic German immigrant (adolescents: mean age 15.7 years, 60% female) mother-adolescent dyads. Results revealed higher levels of emotional and instrumental parentification among immigrant adolescents. Parents' partnership dissatisfaction predicted instrumental and emotional parentification only in the native German sample. Among immigrants, language brokering related to instrumental and emotional parentification, and a larger mother-adolescent acculturation gap was associated with higher levels of emotional parentification. The positive psychosocial outcome, self-efficacy, was predicted by instrumental parentification in both adolescent groups. Exhaustion, the negative outcome, however, was related to higher levels of instrumental and lower levels of emotional parentification only in the immigrant group. The results of this study highlight that family systems can change due to migration to another country, with adolescents becoming more responsible for family matters than is normative for their age. However, only some of these premature responsibilities carry a risk of maladaptation, with others seeming to provide opportunities for positive developmental growth.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adaptation, Psychological*
  • Adolescent
  • Emigrants and Immigrants / psychology*
  • Family / psychology*
  • Female
  • Germany
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Parent-Child Relations / ethnology*
  • Parenting / ethnology
  • Parenting / psychology
  • Parents / psychology*
  • Social Behavior