The Parentification of Child Activist Greta Thunberg A parentified child takes on adult responsibilities which affects her emotional and physical development

I feel sorry for Greta Thunberg the child activist of climate change. Yes, it is impressive that a 16 year is so self-aware. Nonetheless one needs to remember, she is also a child with numerous mental health challenges – Aspergers (an autism spectrum disorder), OCD (obsessive-compulsive disorder), depression, eating disorder, and selective mutism. A child with these kinds of issues needs all the help she needs to help her brain develop optimally in order to survive and thrive in adulthood.

Yet, her parents, the media and all those sponsors are egging on a child who needs to be in school to protest for the greater good of mankind.  Foisting adult responsibilities on a child is parentification and a form of child abuse. This according to mental health experts is wrong. It damages the normal emotional and many a time physical (as in my case) development of a child.

greta thunberg parentified climate activist child
Child Climate Activist Greta Thunberg  is a parentified child

Mental Illness in the Family

Greta is not the only one in the family dealing with these serious mental issues. Her sister Beata, has ADHD, Asperger’s syndrome, and OCD who is prone to sudden outbursts of anger. During which she screams obscenities at her mother. Furthermore, Berta is one control-freak because she insists on walking with her left foot in front, refuses to step on certain parts of the sidewalk, and insists her mother walk the same way. And if her mother does not follow her rules, Berta has a meltdown.

Additionally, Greta who after her self-imposed withdrawal from eating only allows herself certain foods. Her mother has to prepare the same food every day: pancakes filled with rice. And that’s not all, Greta eats them only if there is no sticker with her name on the container: stickers, paper, and newspapers trigger Greta’s OCD against eating.

Family In Crisis

Greta in her Davos speech makes this statement:

“I want you to act as you would in a crisis. I want you to act as if our house is on fire. Because it is.”

Was she really referring to her own house?

All these tales of family dysfunction are recounted in their book Scenes from the Heart (German Edition) – written by mother, father, Beata, and Greta. Their grim story is told in the voice of Greta’s mother, a one-time opera soprano Malena Ernman, who was once a celebrity in Europe.

According to their book a “family in crisis” and a “planet in crisis” are inextricably linked. So shouldn’t one begin cleaning up one’s own house?

What mother trots a child struggling with mental health issues to save the world. When instead she should be providing a stable and calm environment is crucial for kids who are on the spectrum. Their brains get triggered easily. All these high-profile, public events are not going to be helping poor Greta’s sensitive and still-developing brain.

However, it seems her parents are not interested in saving their child, they have their own agenda. Their narcissism does not allow them to view the child’s needs as important.

Narcissistic Parentification

Narcissistic parentification occurs when a child is forced to take on the parent’s idealized projection, something which encourages a compulsive perfectionism in the child at the expense of their natural development. In a kind of pseudo-identification, the child is induced by any and all means to take on the characteristics of the parental ego ideal – a pattern that has been detected in western culture

Parentified children are those who attempt to fulfill the parental role at the expense of their own developmentally appropriate needs and pursuits. They are sensitive to their parents’ moods, wishes, and vulnerabilities, and work hard to attune to their parents’ needs.

I have lived through parentification and the effects are disastrous on one’s development. As a parentified child, many were impressed with how an 8-year-old could offer supportive care to her dying mother. It was okay as long as my mother was alive, she took care of my child needs. Once she died, everyone just saw me as a mini-adult capable of managing and taking on responsibilities.  I did at the detriment of my own development.

Being in the spotlight must be extremely stressful for poor Greta. Even adult celebrities suffer from burnout. A child in her adolescent years with mental health issues, the detrimental effects are magnified. Her brain has no time for rest, recuperation and growth. And it shows in her face, which seems still stuck at age 12, there is none of the vibrancy of a youthful teen.

A parentified child grows lopsidedly, taking an outsized sense of responsibility at the expense of their other developmental needs.

The Drama of The Gifted Child

In her seminal work, ”The Drama of the Gifted Child” Alice Miller has described this situation: The parent, upon having a child, may use the child to fill her own unmet needs.

The gifted child—the child who is more intelligent, more sensitive and more emotionally aware than other children—can be so attuned to her parents’ expectations that she does whatever it takes to fulfill these expectations while ignoring her own feelings and needs. In becoming the “perfect” child of her parents’ dreams, the gifted child loses something very precious. She loses her true self. In becoming her parents’ ideal child, she locks away her true feelings in a kind of “glass cellar,” the key to which is thrown away.

According to Miller, the gifted child in this type of situation stops growing. Because she cannot develop and differentiate her true self,

Greta Thunberg’s planet-saving mission is ‘nonsensical climate zeitgeist’

Saving Greta Thunberg

There is no doubt that Greta Thunberg is a gifted child. But one must not forget that she is a child with numerous mental health challenges. Is it right that the adults in her life have foisted the burden of saving the planet on her? Or rather have made her the global mascot of climate change?

Without a doubt she is highly sensitive, partly due to her Aspergers’ condition, and wants to change things. However, the adults need to understand it is their duty to protect and nurture a child.

No matter how gifted and empathic, a child’s needs must be met first. They have to be allowed to be kids – have fun, play and explore. It does not look like Greta is getting all these things. Her pinched face reflects the burden she has to carry. There is  the pressure to maintain the illusion of a happy family to ‘save face.’

At the age of 12, when Jesus stayed back in the Temple unbeknownst to his parents. His mother Mary on finding Him was angry and admonished him. She commanded Jesus to return home with them, He was still young. His mother was wise. Imagine what would have happened if she had let Jesus start his ministry at that young age, There may not have been Christianity today,

Stolen Childhood

There is no doubt Greta has been influential in raising global awareness on climate change, However, given Greta’s mental health struggles shouldn’t the adults in her life take a hard look at how being in the limelight is really impacting their child.

The effects of incessant travel, the stress of prepping for speeches in front of huge crowds, all this could trigger her already sensitive brain.

In her recent speech at the 2019 UN climate action summit in New York, Greta Thunberg told world leaders

 ‘You have stolen my dreams and my childhood with your empty words,’ 

Was this message really meant for her parents?

Image Source: Pixabay

Further Reading:

Scenes from the Heart (German Edition) – Greta Thunberg, Malena Ernman  Svante Thunberg, Beata Ernman

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Elizabeth Perry
Elizabeth Perry
3 years ago

Interesting perspective Cheryl. I am definitely interested in reading the book her family wrote. Unlike you, I have observed from many youth the frustration with the state of the environment and the inaction of political leadership that Greta expresses. Many who benefit from environmental destruction prefer to deny we live on a finite planet and instead redirect attention from environmental destruction and prolific wealth disparity towards making personal attacks upon the messengers. This practice if very troubling because it maintains the untenable status quo and wastes time we could be using to work together to make the changes we need to benefit all of us.