It is almost a given that kids spend their childhoods wishing they were adults.

Adults have more freedom. They can do what they want. They don’t have people telling them what they can and can’t do or when and how they have to do it. Of course, as adults we know this isn’t the case, but we know we felt the same way when we were young.

Once we become adults, we wish we were still kids. Kids don’t have much in the way of responsibility.

They can live relatively carefree lives, hanging out with their friends, going to parties, etc. Of course, we know this isn’t really true either. The grass is always greener on the other side.

The reality is that kids have plenty of people to answer to – parents, teachers, coaches, and many others. Adults, likewise, have many people to answer to – spouses, bosses, neighbors, creditors, and countless others. Nobody truly gets to do whatever they want. We all answer to someone.

However, there is a group of young people who have it harder than others. There are some kids who are required to fill some or, at times, most of the responsibilities of the adults in their lives.

It is not uncommon for older siblings to have to mind younger siblings, in a babysitting manner, for periods of time until parents get home from work. Older siblings have been doing this for as long as there have been older siblings and most parents find a way to make it up to them, either financially or with other extra privileges.

Then there are those kids who are required to pick up more of the slack at home, including minding younger siblings and performing extra household chores beyond the typical chores that kids are expected to perform.

This often is the result of the parents needing to work more to cover the household expenses. The parent(s) are doing the best they can, and they need their children to pitch in. It can be frustrating for the kids in the moment, when it causes them to not be able to do something of their choosing, but they are generally understanding of the situation. As a society, we need to find ways to lift this burden off these parents, and their children.

These are people doing the best they can to care for their families and they are forced to rely on the whole family to pitch in. It is certainly valuable for young people to learn a sense of responsibility, but they also deserve to enjoy their youth, as it flies by way too quickly and you can never get it back.

Finally, there are the young people who are forced to be the adults in their family because the actual adults are unable or unwilling to perform this role.

These are the kids I truly feel for. Kids that are forced to make sure their siblings are cared for, that there is food in the house or that the bills are paid. It is one thing to have to do the laundry, dust and vacuum, or help your younger sibling with their homework. It’s another thing entirely to actually be the adult in the house.

Too often kids in these situations either don’t know who or how to ask for help or are embarrassed or afraid to ask for help for fear of reprisal. School counselors can often pick up hints that there may be a problem at home, but kids may not share the information.

We must find a way, as a society, to identify families in crisis, and help. We need to do this for the sake of the children, as well as for the adults. The adults may well be in need of assistance they are too embarrassed or afraid to ask for.

Too often we put our heads in the sand and pretend we don’t see things, or we decide that it’s not our business or our responsibility to get involved. If it isn’t ours, then whose is it?

Vinny Olsziewski has a 40-year career as a disability rights advocate, working with local, state and national organizations and encouraging participation by people with disabilities in the political process.

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