What Is Uninvolved Parenting?
Uninvolved parenting — also called neglectful parenting, is a parenting style characterized by low responsiveness and low demandingness.
These neglectful parents are uninvolved in their child’s life. They do not meet their child’s needs, whether it’s basic or emotional needs. They also do not set boundaries or discipline their children.
Children of uninvolved parents receive little nurturing or guidance from their parents. They are practically left to raise themselves. These kids fare the worst among the four Baumrind parenting styles.
Signs and characteristics of uninvolved parenting
Many parents can identify with being stressed, overworked, and tired. You know what we mean: when things get out of control, you might brush off your child for a few minutes of quiet and solitude.
As guilty as you might feel afterwards, these moments aren’t characteristic of uninvolved parenting. Uninvolved parenting isn’t just a moment of preoccupation with one’s self. Rather, it’s an ongoing pattern of emotional distance between parent and child.
Signs of an uninvolved parent include the following:
1. Focus on your own problems and desires
Whether it’s work, a social life apart from the kids, or other interests or problems, uninvolved parents are preoccupied with their own affairs — so much so that they’re unresponsive to the needs of their children, and make little time for them.
Everything else comes before the kids. And in some instances, parents might outright neglect or reject their children.
Again, this isn’t always a matter of choosing a night at the club over family game night. Sometimes, there are issues at play that seem outside of a parent’s control.
2. Lack of an emotional attachment
An emotional connection between parent and child comes naturally for many people. But in the case of uninvolved parenting, this bond isn’t instinctual or automatic. The parent feels a disconnect, which severely limits the amount of affection and nurturing they extend to their child.
3. Lack of interest in child’s activities
Because of a lack of affection, uninvolved parents aren’t interested in their child’s school work, activities, or events. They might skip their sports games or fail to show up for PTA meetings.
4. No set rules or expectations for behavior
Uninvolved parents typically lack a discipline style. So unless a child’s behavior affects them, these parents don’t usually offer any type of correction. They allow the child to act how they want. And these parents don’t get upset when their child performs poorly in school or with other activities.
The Four Baumrind Parenting Styles
In the 1960s, Diana Baumrind, a developmental psychologist at the University of California at Berkeley, identified three different types of parenting styles: authoritative parenting style, authoritarian parenting and permissive parenting.
In 1983, Maccoby and Martin added a fourth type to the framework: uninvolved or neglectful parenting style1.
These 4 parenting styles are categorized based on two dimensions: responsiveness and demandingness.
Characteristics of Uninvolved Parenting Style
Uninvolved parents are neither responsive nor demanding.
If permissive parents are at one end of the responsive spectrum, then neglectful parents occupy the other end.
In terms of demands, authoritarian parents who have high expectations for their children to meet are the opposite of uninvolved parents.
Here are the common behavior patterns of a neglectful parent:
- Show no warmth or affection towards their children.
- Act in an indifferent and distant way. They do not help or take care of their children’s basic needs.
- Do not provide emotional support, such as belonging and encouragement2.
- Do not set rules, boundaries or expectations on their children’s behavior. Also do not monitor or supervise them.
- Do not show interest in their child’s school work, activities or performance.
- Do not involve themselves in their children’s lives overall.
- Intergenerational transmission of neglectful parenting – Research shows that neglected children will grow up 2.6 times more likely to become neglectful to their own children, and twice as likely to be physically abusive3.
Causes of Uninvolved Parenting
Neglectful parents often come from dysfunctional families and received neglectful or uninvolved parenting themselves when they were growing up.
Uninvolved parents tend to have mental health issues of their own, such as depression, and alcoholism.
Another common cause is a history of substance abuse problems in the family.
Researchers have found that many addicted parents have been raised by addicted parents themselves (up to 83%) and neglected during childhood (up to 55%)4.
Addicted parents who have antisocial personality characteristics and choose mates who are predisposed to substance abuse or other mental health problems are at an even higher risk of becoming neglectful.
Harmful Effects of Uninvolved Parenting Style
Uninvolved parenting is the worst style of parenting among the four types because children raised with this parenting style tend to fare the worse.
Neglectful parenting can affect a child’s well being and outcomes in development severely5. It can have the following adverse effects in a young child:
- more impulsive and less self-control6
- underachieve in school7,8
- fewer emotional regulation skills9
- lack social skills
- low self-esteem10
- increased chance of mood disorders such as depression11
- tend to develop Borderline Personality Disorder12
- suffer higher risk for substance abuse. Neglected children of substance-abused parents are 4-10 times more likely to develop substance abuse themselves4.
Uninvolved Parenting Is Not The Same As Free-Range Parenting
Free-range parenting is a term created in recent years to describe parents who give children freedom to go to places such as the playground without adult supervision.
Free-range parenting is not the same as uninvolved parenting.
“Free-range” only describes one aspect in parenting, which is: does the parent supervise their child when they’re outside of the house or not. It doesn’t say anything about whether the parent is warm and responsive to the child’s needs.
A free-range parent can give their child a lot of freedom in going out, but is still warm and responsive. They can also have high expectation of their child’s behavior, such as having good conduct and high school performance.
Busy Parents Are Not Necessarily Uninvolved Parents
Busy parents may not be neglectful parents.
Some parents who hold highly demanding jobs inevitably have less time left for their kids. But they may still be warm and caring. They can still show interest in their children’s lives and create emotional connections when they are spending time together, even if it’s not that frequent.
When it comes to building a healthy parent child relationship, quality is more important than quantity.
Neglectful parenting is a harmful parenting style. Uninvolved parents are uncaring parents who have no interest in their children’s welfare.
They are not just busy parents.
Busy parents who lack involvement because they don’t care are uninvolved parents.
But busy parents who lack time for involvement are just parents who are not good at time management.
In this situation, not being able to get involved in a child’s life is not the same as not wanting to get involved in a child’s life.
Psychologists and experts agree that kids with uninvolved or neglectful parents generally have the most negative outcomes. A neglectful mother is not simply a parent who give a child more freedom or less face-time. Negligent parents neglect their other duties as parents, too.
Regardless of the underlying reasons, it is possible to change a parenting style if you notice characteristics of uninvolved parenting in yourself.
It might help to seek counseling to deal with any mental health problems, past abuse, or other issues that prevent establishing an emotional bond with your child. This isn’t something that will happen overnight, so be patient.
If you’re interested in developing that bond with your child, the desire itself is a great first step. Talk to your healthcare provider about what you can do to add healthy nurturing to your family dynamic, and know that you’re on your way to being the parent your child needs.