When a parent and teacher disagree, the child suffers most

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.

7 replies
    • Mark W.
      Mark W. says:

      Alia, your comment makes no sense. I say that because it’s too vague. There’s nothing Penelope can respond to. It’s like giving someone a compliment by saying they did a good job. It’s too general and essentially meaningless.

  1. Mark W.
    Mark W. says:

    This post is interesting to me as I hadn’t heard of the term ‘language brokering’ and even though it was evident to me the child is caught between the teacher and the parent, I hadn’t considered the harmful effects of both translating and problem solving. It may be okay to a limited extent but where are the lines drawn? There’s also some other brokering going on between the teachers, their unions, administrators, and the education industry supplying curricula. There is such a thing as student voice but I wonder how much, how often and how serious it’s taken in schools.

  2. Mark W.
    Mark W. says:

    I forgot to mention I like the artwork included in the image of this post. I did a reverse image search and learned the process. Is there a specific reason you selected this particular image? It’s very creative, beautiful, and unique.

  3. Minami Hofmann
    Minami Hofmann says:

    That is so interesting to me that language brokering is perceived as a negative thing. The Wikipedia article you cited notes positive effects of language brokering as well as negative. In immigrant/non-Western communities, it’s seen as par for the course, and as much a part of the oldest child’s responsibility as looking after the younger siblings is. Which is common in non-Western cultures.

    I’m not really arguing here, I’m just saying the difference in perception is interesting to me (having been a language broker myself, growing up).

    The divorce “brokering” I definitely agree wholeheartedly as being negative for kids. When my parents divorced when I was 14 my parents never communicated with each other again. They communicated through me instead, and it sucked.

  4. Jean
    Jean says:

    This dynamic was captured in a brutally honest manner in the film Honey Boy by Shia LeBeouf. I highly recommend it!

  5. Karishma Malhotra
    Karishma Malhotra says:

    This is so true. I remember When I was a child, there was a discrepancy on the pronunciation of the word “dengue”. Oh god, that was so hard to deal with. Though as a child I was more in favour of my teacher irrespective of the fact that she was wrong. But it is interesting to read such new terms in the article.

Comments are closed.