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Teenagers as Caregivers: The consequences of caregiving at a young age
January 2, 2020 by Living Assistance Services - Senior Home Care
The trend of waiting to start a family is no longer a trend, but the norm with most couples having their first child in their 30s. You might be surprised to learn that the number of women giving birth after the age of 40 is also rising and has risen steadily over the past decade, according to Statistics Canada. This explains why more and more adolescents and teens are finding themselves taking on the caregiver role for their parents, whether they’re ready or not.
The impact of being a teen caregiver
The number of adolescents and teens in a caregiving role is rising, but what is the impact of caring for a sick or aging parent when you still need care yourself?
The Adolescent Health Survey by the McCreary Centre Society in Vancouver found that 20 percent of the 30,000 respondents who were high school students said they were caregivers. Their duties included helping a parent or other family member bathe and eat, keeping them company, and more. The survey found that young caregivers were twice as likely to have attempted suicide in the previous year and were more likely to be bullied than those without caregiving duties.
Other research on young caregivers shows that adolescents and teens are having to perform complex caregiving duties, such as administering medication and cleaning and dressing wounds. For those looking after an aging parent with a condition such as Alzheimer’s, the demands and impact are even more profound.
Not surprisingly, taking on this role has been shown to negatively impact almost every aspect of a young person’s life.
Adolescent and teen caregivers have been shown to struggle with:
- Poor academic performance due to trouble staying awake and focusing
- Social withdrawal and isolation
- Mental health issues
- Decline in physical well-being
How to help a young caregiver
No parent wants to burden their children with the duties of caregiving at any age, let alone in their adolescence or teens. Unfortunately, it’s not always avoidable, depending on variables like finances, family dynamics, and even cultural traditions and expectations. It’s also natural for a child at any age to want to care for their parent even if it’s at the cost of their own well-being.
For those who find themselves in this position or facing the possibility of being in this type of situation in the future, there are ways to help take some of the burden off teen caregivers.
With some outside-the-box thinking and a little planning, you can help a teen caregiver manage caregiving, as well as their own academic and social activities, and their mental wellbeing.
Some things that can help:
- Have other family members and close friends share caregiving duties while the youth is at school.
- Ask a family member or trusted friend to be there for the young caregiver so they have someone to talk to.
- Speak to teachers and guidance counselors about the situation at home as they may be able to offer support and flexibility to help the teen succeed at school.
- Ask your doctor or local hospital to refer you to a social worker who can help you look into financial assistance for in-home care and emotional support resources.
- Hire a home care agency come in and help with some of the duties, such as personal care, errands, and housekeeping to free up more time for the teen to just be a teen.
- Arrange regular respite care so the teen can take regular breaks from caregiving duties and avoid caregiver burnout.
- Hire a home care agency to take on the more advanced home care duties that can be especially difficult for a teen, such as chronic disease care and palliative care.
David Porter, CPCA
Living Assistance Services – Senior Home Care
Fertility: Overview, 2012 to 2016. Statistics Canada. https://www150.statcan.gc.ca/n1/pub/91-209-x/2018001/article/54956-eng.htm
BC Adolescent Health Survey. McCreary Centre Society. https://www.mcs.bc.ca/ahs_reports#2015