One of the most difficult parts of divorce is that kids have to manage conflict between parents. Parents who don’t communicate well often don’t realize that they end up putting the burden of adult communication on their kids.
Kids are not equipped to deal with the stress of adult problems, but they end up feeling like they are the glue of the family and have no other choice. Psychologists simplify the phenomena by labeling The Four Ps:
Pumping the kid for information about the other parent.
Poisoning the kid’s view of the other parent.
Passing messages is something parents do to avoid each other. But the kids learn fast how to adjust the message so they can avoid conflict as well. Later kids manipulate the message to get what they want.
Privileging. This is not a real word, but maybe it should be. This is when parents relax stated rules and give kids privileges to win favor over the other parent.
Parents can get training to make sure their kids don’t experience this pressure. But it’s different from parents who are immigrants to the US and don’t speak English. In that case, the child learns English quickly and begins translating. But the role of translator between adults in this situation is not any better than translating between two divorced parents.
The term for this behavior is language brokering, and we know that it doubles-down on the stress of being an immigrant because the child is not only in a new situation, but the child has to do the job of an adult.
Like a child of divorce, a language broker changes the message a bit to decrease the amount of conflict they have to deal with. And later the child will not bother translating completely and just start problem-solving without the two parties realizing that the child has become more than just a language broker between two adults.
A new study shows that language brokering is not just occurring among immigrant children. In fact, children of English speaking parents engage in language brokering between the parents and the teacher as well.
Parents disregard teacher instructions and teachers disregard parent requests for accommodations. And the only person to see the disregard is the child. The child realizes that, like divorced parents, the teacher and the parents do not have unified interests, and the child becomes a language broker in order to keep the adults from fighting.
So an entrenched part of school life in our society is children negotiating between teachers and parents. This situation undermines values like trust, accountability and community—just the values our society tells us public school is supposed to preserve.