What is adultifying?

At the extreme, adultifying can be as terrifyingly obvious as in the picture here. Adultifying is exposing a child to adult behaviours that rob him of his innocence and childhood. Adultifying is expecting and encouraging a child to behave as an adult.

As with all kinds of abuse, abuse is about power.  If an adult uses his position of trust and abuses his power to satisfy his own needs, that is abuse. An abuser uses his or her power to abuse to satisfy his or her own needs – often in an effort to make themselves feel better when they feel particularly powerless or threatened.

So in our extreme example, the child soldier fulfills the adult’s need to control and wield power… Through the child.

Children must be allowed to be children and to grow at their own pace.

Some kids are confronted with images and problems that only a developed adult mind can process. As a result, their own emotional development may become stunted or skewed. Every child is entitled to their childhood and to become an adult later and on their own terms, able to meet all of their own needs and live a full and satisfying life.

Imagine a delicate arm with undeveloped muscles being forced to lift a heavy weight. The result would be dislocation or tearing of the muscle – followed by possible long term damage. Similarly, the mind has to develop before it can cope with certain images and an often harsh adult world. CLICK HERE to read more about the development of a child.

Who are the offenders? Sadly, the very people these kids love and trust – and who often love these kids in return – and whose duty it is to protect them and provide them with a safe, age-appropriate world – are the offenders.  ‘Offenders’ because adultifying is child abuse: emotional child abuse. Offenders are usually family members and babysitters for whom the child behaving in an adult way makes life easier for the adult. Sometimes the adult’s life is particularly difficult and we, as a society, should provide the adult with other support.

“I was abused – how can I make sure my own kids are safe?” In order to be able to make good choices for our children it’s important that we ourselves were not subject to abuse when we were young.  If you know (or suspect) that you were subject to abuse yourself, break the chain of abuse by seeing a counsellor who understands normal child development and discuss your fears with him or her.

Many people who know they were abused are very careful with their own families. The difficulty is with the many families where there is unrecognized abuse.

Statistics show that most abusers were abused themselves as children. This does not mean that if you were abused yourself, you will necessarily hurt your own kids however determination alone is often not enough: under stress we often resort automatically to the behaviours of our past. Counselling can effectively ‘break the chain’ and I would advise you to seek out a counsellor.

Counselling works because when we talk about something, we bring it into the conscious realm and it can never again lurk in the subconscious. The mind is like an infinitely brilliant computer and it will take the new knowledge and re-program itself, removing the abuse glitches.

Serious psychoses are of course much more difficult to treat and require professional help.

How do we know what material is ‘age appropriate’? This is a difficult question – although if we look around us we will find plenty of guidance from websites and books about parenting and censorship. It’s a subject that is controversial and there is plenty of opinion to research and from which to form your own guidelines. What are your family opinions and the thoughts of someone you respect on the matter? Extremely helpful is to discuss this issue with a group of like-minded parents.

Do these adults deliberately hurt their kids? There is a lot of evidence to show that people who adultify kids were themselves adultified  as children. They may even think they are ‘doing the kid a favour’ by showing him or her what the ‘real world’ is all about.

It helps the offender to ‘prove’ that their own experience was OK by doing the same thing to another child – as humans we often believe we must ‘normalize’ the way we were brought up ourselves in order to be able to fully accept ourselves. This fear often melts away when you talk about this issue with a non judgmental friend or counsellor.

If you think you see this kind of abuse but when you try and talk to the parent, they seem unable to see or accept it, don’t panic. There is almost always resistance to ‘criticism’ – which of course it is. It may also be that the parent has been so deeply affected themselves, since their own childhood, that they are genuinely unable to see it.

This is a very difficult situation and one that needs delicate handling. Finding a way to offer support whilst being totally non-judgmental is important but to leave the lines of communication open is more important than hoping to ‘win’ at this stage. We will talk about this again.

There is an expectation that all instances of child abuse be reported to social services or the police but expect that adultifying, except in extreme cases, may not be taken too seriously.