Uninvolved parenting, also known as neglectful parenting, is when parents provide little to no support for their children and make no demands. These parents lack warmth, affection, structure, and rules. This “hands-off” approach is associated with negative behavior in teens including low self-esteem and self-confidence, impulsivity and aggression, poor academic performance, and drug and alcohol use. Uninvolved parents and their children can benefit from therapy.
What Is Uninvolved Parenting?
Uninvolved parenting, also known as neglectful or indifferent parenting, is an approach where parents display low levels of support and control.1 Uninvolved parenting is one of the four parenting styles: authoritative, authoritarian, permissive, and uninvolved.2 Each style varies in how demanding/controlling and responsive/supportive parents are to children.
Uninvolved parents are not focused on meeting their children’s emotional needs. They may ignore their emotions, belittle them, or encourage a tougher attitude. Children learn that they cannot go to them for emotional support. These parents don’t set rules, expectations, or limits, and enable problematic behavior for their adult children. Children are given little structure or guidance, which can cause problems when they are in environments that demand rule-following, like school or work.
Uninvolved or neglectful parenting can range on a continuum from a lack of interest to significant child neglect. Mild forms of neglectful parenting involve putting little effort into parenting and focusing more on other areas of life. In extreme cases, uninvolved parents neglect their child’s needs for food, water, shelter, and love. Severely neglectful parents may even abandon their children and leave them in the care of others. Even if you are not completely neglecting your child, uninvolved parenting can have negative effects on your child and your relationship with them.
Characteristics of Uninvolved Parenting Style
Uninvolved parents tend to put more effort into other aspects of their lives at the expense of their families. As a result, children typically feel disregarded and disconnected. They are aware that they can get away with more than their peers, but this comes at the cost of not having a supportive parent who they can turn to for help. To other people, uninvolved parents appear neglectful, indifferent, and uncaring.
Characteristics of an uninvolved parent include:3
- Lack of love and affection
- Little interest in children’s lives
- Not spending time with children
- Appearing cold and distant
- Little to no demands or expectations of children’s behavior
- Failing to give consequences for bad behavior
- Failing to give praise or reinforcement for good behavior
- Not considering children’s opinions when making decisions
- Providing little guidance to children
- Overall lack of interest in family life
What Are the Impacts of Uninvolved Parenting?
Evidence suggests that uninvolved parenting is related to lower self-esteem and self-confidence in children and teenagers.1,4 Other impacts include selecting replacement role models, impulsivity and aggression, poor academic performance, and substance abuse.
Replacement Role Models
Because they lack a close relationship with the parent, children of neglectful parents may seek substitute role models. This is helpful if the role model can provide warmth, responsiveness, and boundaries; however, sometimes unhealthy role models are chosen, which can further impact children in a negative way.
Impulsivity & Aggression
Children of uninvolved parents may also be more impulsive and aggressive, which can lead to behavioral problems at home and school, as well as difficulty maintaining relationships with peers.3,5 Like children coming from permissive families, lack of structure can lead to acting out, rebelliousness, and a disregard for authority.
Poor Academic Performance
Parental involvement in school plays a significant role in teenager’s academic achievement, therefore neglectful parents put their children at an academic disadvantage.6,7 Neglectful homes fail to teach them the skills they need to excel at school like time management, organization, and prioritization.
These parents are unlikely to set or enforce rules with their teens or have conversations about the dangers of substance use. Without guidance, teens are more likely to experiment and make poor decisions.8,9 Unfortunately, these decisions can have significant negative impacts like addiction, legal issues, and health problems.10 Using substances at a younger age can also have a negative impact on brain development.
Examples of Neglectful Parenting
Uninvolved parents fail to teach children necessary skills and expectations. Specific examples of neglectful parenting involve, among other things, a lack of consequences, warmth, and structure for the toddler, child, or teenager.
Here are three examples of uninvolved parenting:
1. Lack of Consequences
If their child is violent, uninvolved parents may punish them without explanation or may not intervene at all. The child will likely continue to behave violently because there is no consequence for their actions or explanation. Authoritative parents, on the other hand, would use this as a teaching opportunity to explain why violence is unacceptable and encourage empathy for the injured child.
2. Lack of Warmth
If their child is struggling with an emotional issue, like bullying, uninvolved parents are unable to provide warmth or support. They may ignore the fact that their child is upset or encourage them to talk to someone else like a peer, teacher, or therapist. An authoritative parent in the same situation would make time for the child, talk to them about how they feel, and even brainstorm solutions.
3. Lack of Structure
If their teen is having problems in school or experimenting with drugs and alcohol, uninvolved parents will not intervene and try to address the problem. Even if there are rules in place, they are rarely enforced. Because these teens learn that there is no structure or consequences, they may continue to break rules. Authoritative parents tackle this subject by clearly outlining rules and expectations with their teens, discussing the consequences of experimentation, and encouraging an open dialogue about peer pressure and interest in substance use.
What Can Lead to Uninvolved Parenting?
While we do not know exactly what causes a person to develop an uninvolved parenting style, there are risk factors. Neglectful parenting is linked to having mental health issues, a criminal background, and growing up in a neglectful home.11 These parents may not have had a model of good parenting behavior and may essentially be copying what they saw growing up.
People with certain mental health conditions may not have the tools to manage the demands of taking care of a family and may therefore take an uninvolved approach. Other parents may simply feel overwhelmed and unable to balance the demands of work, school, and family life. Whether you grew up in a neglectful home or not, you can change your parenting style and learn how to be a more authoritative parent.
How Therapy Can Help Those Impacted by Neglectful Parenting
For those who grew up with neglectful parents, therapy can help you process the impact of your childhood with a focus on moving forward. For those people who may be struggling to parent, therapists who offer parent coaching can teach more effective ways to communicate with your family, handle conflict, and discipline your children. You can become an authoritative parent who provides warmth, structure, and consequences for your children.
Here are different types and modalities of therapy to help improve parenting skills:
- Individual therapy: Can help you understand how your own upbringing is influencing your current parenting and identify ways to change
- Parenting groups: Offer an opportunity to learn new techniques and give and receive advice and support with other families who are having similar struggles
- Family therapy: Allows a trained therapist to observe how you and your children interact and then provide feedback on how to manage situations. Different types of family therapy include child-parent psychotherapy (CPP) and parent-child interaction therapy (PCIT), both of which can help address behavioral issues in toddlers and young children.12
How to Find a Therapist
To begin the process of finding a therapist, start by speaking with your healthcare provider, asking family and friends for recommendations, or contacting your health insurance company for a list of in-network providers. You can also use a therapist directory to help match you with a therapist. Narrow down your search by different factors like therapist’s expertise, cost per session, and years of experience.
Length of Therapy
The duration of therapy varies based on your own goals and the specific approach that the therapist is using. For example, some therapies may be able to help you reach your goals in as few as 12 sessions, while others may take several months or years. Some people choose to stay in therapy after reaching their goals in order to maintain progress or to work on other areas of concern.
Cost of Therapy
The cost of therapy depends on a number of factors, such as how experienced the therapist is, their location, specialty, and whether you are using health insurance or paying out-of-pocket. Generally, therapy can often range from $80 to $200 per session. However, it may cost less if your health insurance is able to cover the costs and you see an in-network therapist. You can always contact your health insurance company for more information about your coverage.
Children of uninvolved parents may suffer from the lack of support and structure that an authoritative parenting style provides.Therapy can help you recover from the harmful effects of your childhood and/or learn ways to be a better, more effective parent to your own children. It is never too late to make positive changes for yourself and your family.