• Erica Tatum-Sheade, LCSW

Adultification Bias: Why Our Girls Need Us

I recently gave a training to a mostly white audience of licensed clinicians on self-esteem in girls, and why it’s important to help “build them up” in our offices. Anyone who knows me knows that I’m big on self-esteem and on making sure every girl that walks into my office knows her value and worth. One way to really understand what is going on, and to best address it with girls, is to understand “Adultification Bias.”

When I bring up Adultification Bias to a group of mental health professionals, teachers, or parents, two things happen:

1) I get lots of head nods or silent “I see you” looks from the audience; or

2) People pick up their pens and start writing furiously – because it’s something they have not heard before.

If you are reading this, I’m going to assume you are in category two (number ones keep reading too, and feel free to chime in on how you address it).

Adultification Bias is the notion that Black and brown girls are seen as much older, in need of less nurturing and less protection, and more capable than their white counterparts. The Center for Poverty and Inequality at Georgetown Law did a longitudinal study and found that as young as 5, our girls are seen as much older than they are – and treated as such by those around them (teachers, authority figures, etc).

Because of this, these girls are more likely to be punished for age-appropriate behaviors, to miss out on mentoring opportunities, to receive inadequate support, and to be mistreated. Imagine what this does to our girls’ self-esteem.