Parental neglect and its effect

How parental neglect can affect your child

Ritika Dhaliwal

Parents are often the first social contact a child makes. They not only influence the child but also have the maximum control over them. Parents may, for various reasons, tend to become so involved in their own lives that they tend to unknowingly ignore the needs of the child. This is termed as uninvolved or neglectful parenting style.

Parenting styles

Parenting and the styles of parenting have been a long-researched topic. Diana Baumrind, a well known developmental psychologist, through a series of research in 1960’s described three styles of parenting: authoritative, authoritarian and permissive/indulgent. The fourth type, the uninvolved parenting was added to the list more recently by other researchers.

The characteristics of uninvolved parenting style are as follows:

  • Parents are emotionally detached and unresponsive to the child. The emotional needs of the child eg, need for appreciation, security, love, nurturing are overlooked.

  • Children are often left unsupervised

  • Children are not shown affection, care and warmth

  • There are hardly any expectations from the child in terms of academics or behaviour

How can uninvolved parenting affect the child?

This approach to parenting can have several negative consequences on the child. For example, a young toddler is playing with his friends at home and suddenly snatches a toy from another child. The parent sees this and does not interfere. As a young child, he is not able to understand the difference between good and bad behaviour but this is when he needs to be taught what is acceptable and how his behaviour might hurt others around him. Some of the consequences of neglectful parenting could be:

  • Feeling unloved: As the children might feel unimportant and unattended to during their childhood, they may not understand the importance of the same in other relationships. They may feel unloved and this can have a huge impact on their self-worth and in future relationships.

  • Fear of dependence: As the children learn very early in life that they must provide for themselves, there might develop a fear of becoming dependent on someone for their needs. This can be a huge challenge for their relationships at a later stage.

  • Social interaction: Children learn everything about social behaviour from the environment they are in at an early age. If they are always neglected at home, ignoring others becomes a part of accepted social behaviour for the child. Studies show that absence of proper social interaction could make them withdraw socially, they may have antisocial behaviour, and they may even become socially anxious.

  • Bullying:  Parents have a huge role to play in preventing bullying among children by guiding them and telling them when they are being violated and bullied. Researchers have found that uninvolved parenting could make children the victims of bullying by peers or older siblings as the parents are unable to guide the children and involve themselves in their lives.

  • Chances of substance abuse: Support from family especially parents, is one of the major factors that can affect a child’s adjustment. Research indicates that neglectful parenting can make a child vulnerable to using substances and even abusing them later. It can also cause conduct problems.

  • Academic performance: Since there are no expectations from the child at home, they  may show little or no interest in academics and have low achievement motivation. Studies have pointed out that children with uninvolved parents are the least adjusted and achieve lowest in exams.

Why do some parents choose this approach?

Parents hardly ever neglect their children by choice. The situations at home and the circumstances that one is in which could include financial hardships, interpersonal relationship between spouses, loss of a spouse, or other crises can cause a parent to neglect the child. However, it can have gravely negative consequences on the child.

How do I know if I am an uninvolved parent?

If you recognize some of these signs in yourself or a friend with children, there might be chances that the child is getting neglected.

  • Being unaware of what is going on in the child’s life - both personal and academics.

  • Not being able to provide a safe space for the child at home where they can express and share their feelings and get feedback in return.

  • Not spending time with the child, leaving them at home alone for long periods of time.

  • Not being aware of the child's friends, teachers, and people they spend most of their time with.

  • Making excuses with relatives and school administration about not being there for the child.

What can be done?

If you find that your child is feeling neglected, is often ill-dressed, misses school, seeks attention from others, is withdrawn and isolated, getting more involved with them would help. One way to do would be to start spending more time with the child and focussing on their life and academics. Taking interest in what the child likes and dislikes and how they are performing at school could be a start.

Parents who are in this situation need intervention to come out of the problem and get back on the right track of healthy parenting. The child involved also needs professional intervention. Acceptance of the current situation is the first step forward. If one of the partners finds that the other is neglecting the child, it is important for them to confront the partner and talk to them. After the parents have come to terms with the fact that the child is getting neglected, the next step is to approach a professional - a family doctor, therapist or a counsellor. By doing so, the parents can seek help for their own personal issues which might be interfering in their relationship with the child as well as other issues that could lead this to happen.