Monthly Archives: October 2014

In the Shadows: Teens Doubling as Caregivers

Are you a teenager? Were you once a teenager? Are you the parent of a teenager? The answer to at least one of those questions is yes, so we know that you know how stressful that age can be. Between tackling loads of homework, making friends (and dealing with inevitable social conflicts), and trying to figure out what you’re going to do when you turn 18, the stressful woes of teens are well-warranted.

So imagine dealing with all that but also having a parent to take care of. This is the reality for more than 1.3 million teens in the U.S. These million-plus teens come home everyday and spend on average two hours providing care to a sick, disabled, or substance-abusing parent, according to recent findings by the American Association of Caregiving Youth (AACY). Come Saturday, they’re spending on average about four hours each day of their weekend providing care.

What do the ins and outs of this caregiving role entail? These adolescent and teenaged caregivers are helping their parents eat, dress, bathe, get from point A to point B, take medicines, shop for groceries and more.

The average age of the teenaged caregiver is just 12 years old–an incredibly young individual to be taking on such enormous responsibility.

In our research for the book, we encountered many teens who’d slipped into the shoes of caregiver when their parent fell ill with cancer. Many of these young caregivers were in single parent homes, and also ended up taking care of their younger siblings as well. While some were happy to step into the role, others described it as a burden. Indeed, AACY’s recent study found that caregiving youth are at a higher risk of failing in school and falling ill due to the “chronic physical and emotional stress,” as Julia Belkowitz puts it.

If you’re a caregiving youth who needs help, check out the Resources section of our website to reach out for help, and please share your experience in the comments. If you’re a parent with cancer who’s son or daughter has stepped into a caregiving role, please be conscious of how much you’re asking from your child. It’s common for parents to underestimate the time and stress that this role can cause on their children.