Adults to Lean on
The Psychological impact of Growing Up in the Shadow of Disenfranchised Adults and Oppressed Communities
Children everywhere need stable and supportive parents and mentors.
Parents and adults as providers: Ideally, parents, with the help of other adults in their community, assume responsibility for their family’s subsistence, meet children’s basic needs, and teach them during their developmental years to handle the challenges that will increasingly face them in the real world.
Parents and adults as role-models: Under their parents’ and teachers’ care, children learn to feel more and more capable of taking part in shaping their future as grown-ups, the way adults around them shape aspects of their own lives.
Parents and adults as guides for life: Along with extended family members, neighbors, educators and other important members of the community, parents raise their children and equip them with the tools to adjust to life’s challenges.
Parents and adults as emotional mediators: Having greater ability for self-regulation in situations of distress and frustration, “good-enough parents” are able to attune themselves to children’s emotional needs and thus help them regulate their emotions.
Parents and adults as protectors: Being physically bigger and stronger than their children, parents can shield them from external dangers and provide them with crucial sense of freedom and safety.
Parents may well protect children from themselves: they watch over them, serve as guiding authorities, set boundaries, and help children give meaning to their daily lives.
Parents and adults as an anchor: A parent’s constancy — alongside the ongoing support of other reliable adults — underlies children’s development of trust in the world and in themselves. It allows children to grow up at their own pace and according to their gradually increasing capacities.
Parents and adults as soothers: In extreme traumatic situations, the reactions of parents (and other adults around the child) have the potential to help protect children and enhance their healing. Adults have an essential role to play in helping children cope with threatening realities and in comforting them at these times.
Parents and adults as community members: In order to enable children to develop in these ways, parents and educators need significant emotional resources, stemming from life experience, from the emotional legacies passed down to them from their families of origin, from friends, colleagues, and partners in their living communities, and from the full range of social systems they belong to. For example, social services and community structure may facilitate parental functioning in stress situations and crises.
Parents and adults as part of other systems: As is well known, “it takes a whole village to raise a child”; In other words, the contexts of children’s development are comprised of different circles of their surrounding environments—concentric circles that mutually affect each other. Parental and other family support systems are thus deeply influenced by educational, religious and economic structures, by cultural and local community support systems, and by the nature of the political regimes among which they live.
Potential threats to families
When children grow up in environments in which adults are disenfranchised and systematically deprived of security and needed resources, crucial support systems may well be lacking and psychological damage may ensue.
Faced with oppressive power relations and ongoing disregard of human dignity, parents and educators are required to make great efforts in order to become emotionally available to their children. They are in risk of becoming too overwhelmed to notice and to be responsive enough to their children’s emotional needs and difficulties.
Parents and educators who are deprived of such basic rights as freedom of movement and the right to direct the course of their lives sometimes practice resistance and inspire steadfastness and determination in their children. Nevertheless, they may well have limited ability to foster in them a sense of agency, i.e., the ability to shape their own life paths and influence their world.
Parents who feel existentially insecure might find it difficult to protect their children from situations that produce extreme anxiety and to calm and reassure them when such situations do arise.
Children who often see their parents in states of helplessness and degradation caused by oppressive political powers are exposed to damages to their emotional well-being, in ways that are somewhat comparable to those impact children who grow up in the shadow of domestic violence. Possible reactions might include a heightened sense of guilt, unrealistic attempts at reparation, and even paradoxical identification with the aggression all around them; this may lead to the adoption of violent behavior.
Furthermore, situations of political oppression may induce a weakening of parental authority in families, comparable to some extent to impacts of migrations on family life. Thus, parents may be less capable to set safe boundaries that would free their children from inappropriate concerns for their age. Confusion of parental and children’s family roles may also occur.
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