The neglectful parenting style is uninvolved. The parents spend very little time interacting with their child and are unresponsive to their emotional needs. There are very few demands placed on the child and very little supervision of behavior.
The neglectful parenting style was first identified by Maccoby and Martin (1983) as an extension of Baumrind’s (1971) original typology of parenting styles.
A neglectful parenting style has been linked to a lack of motivation and low academic achievement. This is not surprising given that these parents apply few demands on their child’s behavior.
The lack of discipline and emotional responsiveness also produces children that have difficulty developing emotional control and self-regulation. This can lead to making bad decisions and being prone to delinquency and misbehavior.
There are exceptions of course, but ever since Baumrind’s early research, scientists around the globe have studied the effects of parenting styles on children and uncovered an impressive degree of consistency.
Neglectful Parenting Examples
- Parents more concerned with work than children: Brenda is a high-achieving corporate executive. Because she travels extensively, she has little time for attending soccer games or school plays.
- Children skip school and the parents don’t know: 16-year-old boy Stephen works at the local fast-food restaurant until after midnight Monday to Friday. In the mornings he feels too tired to sit in class all day, so most days he drives right past the school and heads to the park. His parents never know because they never attend the school’s parent/teacher meetings.
- Parents don’t set rules: The Johnsons have very few expectations for their children. Although they expect them to behave, they rarely set rules or apply discipline.
- Children don’t know how to follow rules: Jason often gets combative with his teachers because he doesn’t want to read a novel or write a report.
- Parents unaware of children’s needs: When his son cries because he is hurt or wants attention, John barely notices.
- Children don’t develop social skills: Daniel gets nervous around others easily. He is incredibly shy and has no friends at school. He feels that others will not like him so he keeps to himself.
- Parents can’t cope so they give up: Bob has some anxiety issues that he has been in treatment for the last several years. He finds it overwhelming to deal with his children’s tantrums and symbolic cries for attention, do he puts on his headphones and listens to music.
- Children feel like they’re on their own: When Linda wants to ask her mom for advice about kids at school, her mother responds by telling her to deal with it; she has too many problems to handle herself.
- Children end up taking parental roles: When Sarah comes home after school, she immediately starts to prepare dinner for her two younger siblings. After that she will do the laundry and help them with their homework before putting them to bed. Her father is absent and her mother works two jobs.
- Parents are more interested in their social lives than their children: Janet is a single mom with three kids. She works full-time, goes to the gym to keep herself fit, and socializes on most weekends with friends and potential romantic partners.
Examples of Studies on Neglectful Parenting
1. Children of Neglectful Parents often have Low Levels of Self-Esteem
Given that the neglectful parenting style is void of emotional bonding and parental nurturance, it is reasonable to hypothesize that children raised in this kind of environment would suffer psychologically. Being ignored by one’s parents can be easily internalized by young children as a sign that they lack value and worth.
Milevsky et al. (2007) conducted a test of this hypothesis by administering several questionnaires to 272 students in grades 9 to 11 in a large metropolitan city. The measures consisted of students’ perceptions of maternal and paternal parenting styles and three measures of psychological adjustment: self-esteem, depression, and life satisfaction.
A careful examination of the data reveals that scores on self-esteem and life satisfaction were lowest for the neglectful parenting style. This pattern was the same for both maternal and paternal parenting.
In addition, students’ scores on the depression measure were highest for the neglectful parenting style, and this pattern was true for both maternal and paternal parenting.
As the authors state, “results indicate that parenting practices are related to well-being in adolescence. Additionally, the current study breaks new ground by examining maternal and paternal parenting styles separately and their association with adolescent well-being” (p. 45).
2. Children of Neglectful Parents often have low Physical Activity Levels
Studies have found that the neglectful parenting style correlates negatively with physical activity. Below is an explanation of one such study.
Most studies on parenting styles examine the connection between parenting and the social and emotional characteristics of children. This includes self-esteem, depression, academic achievement and delinquency. However, parenting styles may also affect children’s level of physical activity. Since physical activity is a key factor related to cardiovascular disease and symptoms of depression and anxiety, it would be worthwhile to better understand the role of parenting.
Hennessy et al. (2010) examined the role of parenting styles on children’s physical activity. Approximately 20-25 sets of parent/child dyads were randomly selected from four schools in several rural regions across the U.S. The children were 6-11 years old.
Parents responded to a self-report measure of their parenting style and the physical activity of children was tracked using an accelerometer attached to their right hip.
The results revealed that: “…uninvolved parenting style was negatively associated with [physical activity]” (p. 78). In fact, of the four parenting styles, uninvolved parenting was associated with the least amount of physical activity.
3. Children of Neglectful Parents are often Immature
One of the difficulties of studying the effects of the neglectful parenting style is that these parents often fail to participate in psychological studies. Some of these parents are extremely busy with their careers and thus either do not have time or are simply out of town. Other neglectful parents just do not see participation as a priority or they may be dealing with a range of personal issues.
A study by Steinberg et al. (2006) involved 1,335 juvenile offenders ranging in age from 14-17 years old. Participants were administered a short questionnaire to assess parenting style. The parenting styles of the sample were: 32% authoritative, 30% neglectful, 18% authoritarian, and 19% indulgent.
Psychological functioning was assessed via four measures: psychosocial development, academic competence, internalized distress, and externalizing problems.
The results revealed that juvenile offenders “…who describe their parents as neglectful are less mature, less competent, and more troubled” (p. 6).
4. Children of Neglectful Parents are less likely to Internalize Prosocial Values
One of the primary functions of parenting is the socialization of values. Children learn what values to have by observing their parents and receiving direct instruction on what is right and wrong. When exhibiting adherence or noncompliance to these principles, they may be praised or scolded accordingly. However, with the neglectful parenting style, there is little such interaction between parent and child, and therefore, one could predict a lack of values internalization.
This reasoning was put to the test in a fairly large study on teenagers in Brazil (Martinez & García, 2008). Participants were 1,198 adolescents from Northeast Brazil ranging in age from 15-18 years old.
The students responded to several questionnaires which assessed parental socialization, parenting styles, and self-esteem.
The results indicated significant differences in the degree of internalization of specific values. For instance, “…adolescents from authoritative and indulgent homes give higher priority to universalism, benevolence, and conformity values than do adolescents from authoritarian or neglectful homes. Adolescents from neglectful families scored lower in those value types than adolescents from authoritarian homes.” (p. 21-22).
Other analyses revealed that “…adolescents from authoritative and indulgent homes—who did not differ from each other—had higher academic self-esteem than adolescents from authoritarian or neglectful families” (p. 22).
Moreover, family self-esteem of adolescents from a neglectful parenting home was lower than those from an indulgent or authoritative home.
5. Children of Neglectful Parents have Low Expectations for their Future
Neglectful parents fail to provide their children with a warm and nurturing environment, which leads to lower levels of self-esteem and confidence. Since the parents are uninvolved and have few interactions with their children, they may be completely unaware of their skills and abilities. This unawareness means they will not encourage their children to excel and their children will not develop an optimistic outlook on their future.
Moscatelli and Rubini (2011) investigated the impact of parenting styles on expectations for the future. Their reasoning was that authoritative parents would show optimism in their child’s abilities and provide a nurturing and encouraging environment. This would facilitate a positive outlook for the future. Quite the opposite would occur for children raised by neglectful parents.
Participants were 393 students in secondary school in North Italy. Questionnaires were administered to all students, which included: a measure of parenting styles, collective self-esteem, and expectations for the future. The latter scale contained questions such as “I see the future as a time when I will be able to fulfill myself.”
Several statistical analyses were conducted on all measures. In terms of expectations for the future, “…neglectful families provide the worst conditions for the child’s development of positive expectations for the future, at least as regards expectations of having satisfying stable intimate relationships” (p. 354).
Additional analyses revealed that “…adolescents from neglectful families were those who scored lower on collective self-esteem, also in comparison with those belonging to authoritarian and indulgent families” (p. 354).
Related Theory: Family Systems Theory
The neglectful parenting style is characterized by parents that are uninvolved in their children’s lives. They place few demands on their children’s behavior and can be emotionally distant. This can be for a variety of reasons, such as a busy career, mental health issues, or self-centeredness.
Research has shown that children raised by neglectful parents have lower self-esteem and academic ambitions, engage in less physical activity than children from other parenting styles, and have low expectations for their future.
Baumrind, D. (1971). Current patterns of parental authority. Developmental Psychology Monographs, 4, 1-103.
Hennessy, E., Hughes, S. O., Goldberg, J. P., Hyatt, R. R., & Economos, C. D. (2010). Parent-child interactions and objectively measured child physical activity: A cross-sectional study. The international journal of behavioral nutrition and physical activity, 7, 71. https://doi.org/10.1186/1479-5868-7-71
Maccoby, E. E., & Martin, J. A. (1983). Socialization in the context of the family: Parent-child interaction. In Handbook of Child Psychology; Mussen, P.H., Ed.; Wiley: New York, NY, USA, Volume 4, 1–103.
Martinez, I., & García, F. (2008). Internalization of values and self-esteem among Brazilian teenagers from authoritative, indulgent, authoritarian, and neglectful homes. Adolescence, 43(169), 13-29.
Milevsky, A., Schlechter, M., Netter, S., & Keehn, D. (2007). Maternal and paternal parenting styles in adolescents: Associations with self-esteem, depression and life-satisfaction. Journal of Children & Family Studies, 16, 39-47.
Moscatelli, S., & Rubini, M. (2011). Parenting Style in Adolescence: The Role of Warmth, Strictness, and Psychological Autonomy Granting in Influencing Collective Self-Esteem and Expectations for the Future. Handbook of Parenting: Styles, Stress & Strategies, 342-359.
Steinberg, L., Blatt-Eisengart, I., & Cauffman, E. (2006). Patterns of competence and adjustment among adolescents from authoritative, authoritarian, indulgent, and neglectful homes: A replication in a sample of serious juvenile offenders. Journal of Research on Adolescence: The Official Journal of the Society for Research on Adolescence, 16(1), 47–58. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1532-7795.2006.00119.x