Date of Award

Spring 5-15-2023

Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Social Work (DSW)

First Advisor

Dr. Peter Lehmann, LCSW, PhD

Second Advisor

Dr. Frani Pollack, RD, LSW, PhD


Objectives: Evidence has suggested that the consequences of parentification can be destructive, traumatic, and negative. In many studies, parentification is not linked to positive outcomes, but most studies have not examined positive outcomes. Most studies on parentification have concentrated on child caregivers up to 18 years of age, whereas young adult caregivers (18–24 years) as a group have been neglected. Recent research has begun to change focus from risk and pathology to protective factors. The purpose of this study is to explore how 18–24-year-old parentified emerging adults view, experience, and make-meaning of their role, challenges, and sense of self.

Methods: This is a qualitative study utilizing Interpretive Phenomenological Analysis (IPA). Purposive sampling (n=7) was used to achieve a sample of 18–24-year-old emerging adults who met a pre-screening minimum number of parentification criterion utilizing a subset of the Parentification Inventory Questionnaire (PI). Semi-structured Zoom interviews were conducted with participants and data gathered and analyzed using IPA protocols.

Results: Each participant has a unique view of their story, influenced by a varied set of environmental, biopsychosocial, and sociocultural factors as well as their own definition of “being parental”. Study participants shared commonalities in the role fulfilling a family need, varied emotions and feelings engendered at varied life stages, growing up too fast, and mental health functioning and help seeking. Therapy emerged as a potential avenue to establishing parentification narratives and managing consequences. Lastly, sense of self and locus of control may enable positive personal growth opportunities.

Conclusion: This study suggests that post-traumatic growth (PTG) could develop in a gradual, thoughtful, and self-aware fashion for parentified 18-24-year-olds. Interventions including but not limited to therapy could be a possible conduit toward making meaning of childhood parentification. Despite commencement of research, and assertions of protective factors impacting outcomes, questions distinguishing why parentified emerging adults’ growth opportunities differ, remain open. This study suggests continued research on parentified emerging adults and positive outcomes is warranted.

Available for download on Wednesday, May 01, 2024

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