How Does It Affect Children When Their Parents Ignore Them?

Boy sitting on couch with aloof parents
Some parents avoid interaction with their children. (Image: Jupiterimages/Goodshoot/Getty Images)

Humans interact with their children in a variety of ways. Authoritarian parents tend to lay down the law and mete out harsh punishments, while permissive parents set few or no limits. The authoritative parenting style, in which parents are warm, loving and still set definite limits, seems to be the most effective. However, a fourth style, the uninvolved parent, can create a number of problems for children that may follow them into adulthood.

Uninvolved Parents

Uninvolved parents, according to Provider-Parent Partnerships at Purdue University, essentially ignore their children. Like permissive parents, they set few or no limits, but they do not have the emotional warmth most permissive parents display. Uninvolved parents may even make statements to a child such as “I don’t care what you do.” These parents may be depressed or overwhelmed with the struggle of daily living, but the result is a child with little or no supervision, support or affection. In some cases, the uninvolved parent may be outright neglectful.

Attachment Problems

Children form relationships with their parents -- called attachment relationships -- that are related to the amount and kind of attention the parents give them. A secure attachment results when a child feels her parents are dependable; she knows what to expect and that they will provide support. The child usually feels comfortable exploring her world and is able to learn because she has security. When parents do not respond to a child’s needs or ignore her feelings, she learns her needs will not be met and that she must take care of herself. She will often have difficulty building relationships with others and may behave aggressively.

Problems for the Children

Parenting styles have different effects on children. The uninvolved parents’ indifference to their children causes a number of problems. Children of uninvolved parents have little emotional control. They have trouble forming attachments to other people. Easily frustrated, they are more likely to have academic problems and delinquent behavior, according to a May 2005 article on the UDaily, a University of Delaware website. An article on the Cornell University website says teens raised by uninvolved parents are likely to be impulsive, self-centered and do not believe there will be consequences for their behavior.

Divorce

Children need stability and predictability. One of the most difficult experiences for a child is when parents separate and divorce, according to “The Merck Manuals.” During this time, the parents may be preoccupied and offer little support to the child. Many children feel guilt, anger, anxiety and sadness during a divorce. If one parent has full custody and the parental relationship is rocky, the child may feel abandoned unless the non-custodial parent makes an extra effort to visit, call or otherwise stay connected. When a noncustodial parent visits sporadically, unpredictably or not at all, children may feel rejected.

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