What is Infantilisation?

Introduction

Infantilisation is the prolonged treatment of one who has a mental capacity greater than that of a child as though they are a child.

Background

When used in reference to teenagers or adolescents, the term typically suggests that teenagers and their potential are underestimated in modern society, and/or that adolescents are often regarded as though they are younger than their actual age.

Studies have shown that an individual, when infantilised, is overwhelmingly likely to feel disrespected. Such individuals may report a sense of transgression akin to dehumanisation.

There can be an overlap between the terms “infantilisation” and “patronisation”, although infantilisation derives more specifically from a sense of age group or hierarchical seniority on the part of those responsible for infantilisation. The act of infantilising others has been associated with narcissists.

Infantilisation may also refer to a process when a child is being treated in a manner appropriate only for younger children.

In property law, infantilisation is defined as “the restriction of an individual’s or group’s autonomy based on the failure to recognize and respect their full capacity to reason.” When infantilisation is coupled with property takeover, the result is a dignity taking.

There are several examples of dignity takings, including wage theft from undocumented workers where the power imbalance allows employers to rob workers of their agency and avenues for redress; the dispossession of property from African Americans in the South Carolina sea islands by predatory tax buyers who routinely infantilised their victims by overwhelming them with paperwork and timelines to accelerate foreclosures; and the unequal division of matrimonial property in southern Nigeria following divorce that assumes women are less capable of managing property and thus infantilises them.

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