Characteristics and Effects of Uninvolved Parenting

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Uninvolved parenting, sometimes referred to as neglectful parenting, is a style characterized by a lack of responsiveness to a child's needs. Uninvolved parents make few to no demands of their children and they are often indifferent, dismissive, or even completely neglectful.

During the 1960s, psychologist Diana Baumrind described three different parenting styles based on her research with preschool-age children: authoritarianauthoritative, and permissive parenting. In later years, researchers added uninvolved parenting.

Characteristics

Baumrind characterized her parenting styles in terms of two key dimensions: parental responsiveness and parental demandingness. Uninvolved parents are low on both of these dimensions.

They do not respond well to the needs of their children and provide little affection, support, or love. They also make very few demands on their children. They rarely set rules and do not offer guidance or expectations for behavior.

Common patterns of behavior for uninvolved parents:

  • Act emotionally distant from their children
  • Limit interactions with their children because they're too overwhelmed by their own problems
  • Provide little or no supervision
  • Set few or no expectations or demands for behavior
  • Show little warmth, love, and affection towards their children
  • Skip school events and parent-teacher conferences

Free-Range vs. Uninvolved Parents

It is important to note that uninvolved parenting is not the same as free-range parenting. Where uninvolved parents have no interest in their children's lives, free-range parents are loving and attentive but give their kids plenty of freedom to experience the natural consequences of their actions.

Busy Parents

It is also important to note that just because a parent is busy with work or other obligations does not mean they are uninvolved. Intent and caring matter. While parents may work a lot of hours, they are not uninvolved if they spend the free time they have with their kids and make sure their children are cared for when they cannot be with them.

Examples

Uninvolved parents have little emotional involvement with their kids. While they provide for basic needs like food and shelter, they are, for the most part, uninvolved in their children's lives. The exact degree of involvement may vary considerably.

Some uninvolved parents may be relatively hands-off with their kids, but may still have some basic limits such as curfews. Others may be downright neglectful or even reject their children outright. Kids might be given the bare minimum they need for survival, such as shelter, nourishment, and clothing, yet little or nothing in the way of guidance or affection.

Causes

It is important to note that uninvolved parenting is often not intentional. It may arise for a number of different reasons, including things like parental experience and stress.

Parents who exhibit an uninvolved parenting style were often raised by uninvolved and dismissive parents. As adults, they may find themselves repeating the same patterns they were raised with. Other parents who display this style may simply be so caught up in their busy lives that they find it easier to take a hands-off approach to deal with their children.

In some cases, parents may be so wrapped up in their own problems (i.e., being overworked, coping with depression, struggling with substance abuse) that they actually fail to see how uninvolved they are with their children or are simply unable to provide the emotional support their children need.

Effects

Researchers associate parenting styles with a range of child outcomes in areas such as social skills and academic performance. The children of uninvolved parents generally perform poorly in nearly every area of life. These children tend to display deficits in cognition, attachment, emotional skills, and social skills.

Due to the lack of emotional responsiveness and love from their caretakers, children raised by uninvolved parents may have difficulty forming attachments later in life.

The complete lack of boundaries in the home makes it difficult to learn appropriate behaviors and limits in school and other social situations, which is why children with uninvolved parents are more likely to misbehave.

Outcomes linked to uninvolved parenting include children who:

  • Are anxious or stressed due to the lack of family support
  • Are emotionally withdrawn
  • Fear becoming dependent on other people
  • Have an increased risk of substance abuse
  • Must learn to provide for themselves
  • Tend to exhibit more delinquency during adolescence

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How to Respond

Uninvolved parenting can leave a lasting mark on kids, which you may continue to feel as an adult if you were raised by uninvolved parents. You may also fear repeating these patterns with your own children. There are things you can do to improve your parenting skills, such as:

  • Learn more about parenting: Read books, websites, and articles devoted to child-rearing to learn more about effective approaches that are beneficial for children.
  • Take a parenting class: Parent training has been shown to help improve parental involvement. Check with local hospitals and community colleges to find parenting courses in your area or check online.
  • Consider therapy: Talking to a mental health professional can help you contextualize your own experiences and develop new skills that will help you build healthy bonds and boundaries with your kids.
  • Get involved: Make an active effort to spend more time with your children. Listen to them and learn about their lives. Changing isn't easy and it may be more difficult if you are a busy, working parent. Focus on carving out whatever time you can to devote your undivided attention to your kids. 

If you recognize that you have been an uninvolved parent, you may find family therapy helpful. A therapist can help you identify strategies that will help form closer connections, deeper bonds, and better responsiveness within your family unit.

While you can't change the past, there are also things you can do to help heal from being raised by uninvolved parents. Caring for yourself, developing healthy attachments with other people in your life, and speaking to a mental health professional are all steps you can take that can foster the healing process.

A Word From Verywell

It is clear from looking at the consequences of this type of child-rearing that the uninvolved parenting style is far from ideal. In order to raise confident children who are emotionally healthy and resilient, children need support, warmth, love, appropriate discipline, structure, and guidance from adults that they trust.

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