Children's and adolescent's help with moderate levels of household tasks
In one line of work, I research how children's experiences of helping the family promote or undermine their emotional wellbeing and academic success (Armstrong-Carter et al., 2019, Child Development Perspectives). Further, I investigate youths' helping behavior impacts their development differently among different age groups (e.g., early childhood compared to adolescence), cultural backgrounds, and socioeconomic groups. For example, my research has illustrated that:
When Asian American, White and Latino/a adolescents helped the family via moderate amounts of chores and babysitting, they experienced more positive emotions the same day (Armstrong-Carter et al., Child Development, 2020).
They also were more likely to show positive engagement with schoolwork and learning activities the next day (Armstrong-Carter et al., 2021; Journal of Research on Adolescence).
Black adolescents who provided more frequent emotional support to the family were more engaged in school. However, completing household chores and providing childcare were linked with school engagement and lower academic grades specifically among youth from homes with low incomes (Armstrong-Carter, Social Development, 2022).
These papers and my other work highlight the diversity of youths’ contributions to the family in underrepresented samples.
I am particularly interested in the experiences of the children and adolescents who provide significant, ongoing care for a family member who is chronically ill, disabled, or experiencing an aging-related decline (e.g., siblings, parents and grandparents). An estimated 5.4 million caregiving youth in the US are involved in caregiving on a daily basis. However, their experiences are under researched and often misunderstood (Armstrong-Carter et al., Social Policy Reports, 2021). I examine how children’s caregiving responsibilities relate to their wellbeing and educational opportunities in families from diverse socioeconomic and cultural backgrounds.
I have formed and I maintain three ongoing research-practice partnerships that focus on understanding the prevalence and experiences of caregiving youth. In partnership with the Florida Department of Health, Florida Department of Education, and the Rhode Island Department of Education, we have begun to identify and count caregiving youth in schools for the first time in US history:
In 2019, we administered the first-ever school-based survey to identify caregiving youth in Florida. We revealed that 24% of middle-high- school students provide at least some caregiving to the family daily (Armstrong-Carter et al., 2022, Journal of Family Psychology). Further, caregiving youth across demographic groups faced heightened risk for emotional, social, academic, and physical health challenges. This work provided the largest quantitative evidence to date about caregiving youths’ development in the US.
We are now identifying caregiving youth across Rhode Island schools, in partnership with the Rhode Island Department of Education. We have identified the number of children who are caregivers in schools for the second time in US history. This research demonstrated that 29% of children are involved in caregiving for part of the day, and 7% of children are involved in caregiving for most of the day (currently under review).
I am currently working with the Rhode Island Department of Education to revise their state-wide educational requirements and policies to better support caregiving youth (see Boston Globe, December 7th, 2021). This work is already informing policies to support caregiving children’s educational success and mitigate inequalities in Rhode Island Schools.
Our social policy report recommends specific school-based and government policies to support caregiving children’s academic success (Armstrong-Carter et al., 2021; Society for Research in Child Development Social Policy Reports).
This work exemplifies my interdisciplinary collaborations and partnerships with local communities. Our ongoing research partnership is starting to bring caregiving youth to national recognition. We are currently working to extend the identification caregiving youth in schools nationwide.
Children and adolescents who are caregiving for family
Children's and adolescents' experiences helping friends and peers
I also examine children's and adolescents' prosocial behavior more broadly — that is, the ways that youth help friends and peers. This work has extended traditional understandings of prosocial behavior by (1) illuminating how it relates to academic success and (2) highlighting how many prosocial behaviors also involve taking risks. For example this work has shown that:
Young children’s prosocial helping behavior at age 5 consistently buffered concurrent and subsequent academic risk from ages 5 to 7 (Armstrong-Carter et al., 2021, Child Development). This work was featured in Forbes and CNBC.
Providing instrumental support to friends may be physiologically taxing from day to day (as indexed via daily increases in cortisol), but, across the long term, linked to lower cardiovascular risk for adolescents who experience helping as highly fulfilling (Armstrong-Carter & Telzer, 2020, Developmental Psychobiology).
I have also proposed a research agenda for understanding youths' prosocial development in the digital age (Armstrong-Carter & Telzer, 2021, Child Development Perspectives).