While the perception of youth is that they spend their time texting, playing video games and taking part in after school activities, the reality is that many youth – close to 1.5 million – spend their free time in the role of caregiver. These youth care for aging or ill family members instead of participating in activities their peers are involved in. Close to 65 percent of these youth caregivers were girls, the others were boys and the average age of these caregivers was 12.
These “caregiving youth,” it’s been found, are at risk of health issues, poor school performance and emotional stress. A professor at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine noted that these youth are “juggling adult-sized responsibilities in caring for ill, injured, aging or disabled family members while trying to keep up at school… and it’s taking its toll.” The report showed that these young caregivers spent between two and a half hours to four hours each weekend involved in caregiving tasks, in addition to unreported or underreported hours on weekdays.
These young caregiving roles are taking on the tasks of cooking, bathing, assisting around the house, helping a disabled family member get around, shopping, giving mediations and offering emotional support. The study was one of the first steps in understanding the role these youth caregivers are taking on and how it might be impacting their school and personal lives.
For families who may have let caregiving tasks fall to the youth because Mom or Dad might be working, adding a home medical alert system might be an ideal way to offer peace of mind for all involved. These devices could provide the youth the freedom to participate in age-appropriate activities while still letting the family know that the aging or ill relatives will still be “cared for” because with a personal medical device, they are never truly alone in the home.