Uninvolved parenting: the cost to the child?

During the 1960’s, psychologist Diana Baumrind described three different parenting styles based on her research with preschool children. Years later, researchers added a fourth style known as uninvolved parenting.

The American English Dictionary defines the word uninvolved as ‘to not be connected with, or take part in something.’

Uninvolved parenting (which is often referred to as a neglectful form of  parenting) is characterised by an absolute lack of responsiveness by the parent to the needs of their  child. While these parents provide for the basic necessities such as food and shelter, they are generally completely disconnected from their children’s lives.

The parent is not in tune with the child on an emotional level, and most of the time they are completely  unaware of what is going on in their child’s life.

This parent will either make minimal, or no demands of their child. Demands for good behaviour, emotional regulation, self-discipline, and social norms are non-existent. Often, the uninvolved parent will simply dismiss the child, behave indifferently, and will sometimes be completely neglectful.

Opportunities for these children to enjoy out of school sports, music lessons, and other enjoyable activities that most other children have the pleasure of participating in, are often out of reach for children with uninvolved parents.

Routinely, uninvolved parents are far too self-absorbed or preoccupied with work, and their own activities to take the time to teach their children important life skills – and to discuss with their children what is and isn’t socially acceptable.

It is not uncommon for these parents to outright refuse to support their children at school events, or other activities that are important to the child. The child of an uninvolved parent is generally expected to take care of themselves.

The uninvolved parent is extremely emotionally detached from their child, and the emotional involvement that they do have with their child is generally very limited.

However, the degree of involvement that uninvolved parents have with their child varies from parent to parent. Some uninvolved parents may be hands off in nature. However, the same parent may put into place some limits such as a curfews. Other parents practising this model of parenting may be more extreme, and may even reject their own child.

Characteristics of the uninvolved parenting style
These parents:

  • Are emotionally distant from their children
  • Offer very little supervision, if any
  • are often unaffectionate, and show little warmth and love
  • Demand little
  • Will not attend school things or parent-teacher interviews
  • May deliberately avoid their own children
  • Are often too overwhelmed by their own problems to deal with their children

Effects of the uninvolved parenting style

Children who have an uninvolved parent may:

  • feel unimportant to their parent
  • become emotionally withdrawn from social situations
  • have overwhelming feelings of loneliness
  • show patterns of disruptive behaviour, and delinquency in adolescence
  • be prone to developing fear, stress or anxiety disorders
  • develop low-self esteem
  • have a lack of self- control
  • become addicted to drugs and alcohol
  • demonstrate defiance to authority figures such as parents, teachers and other adults.

Understanding uninvolved parenting

Statistics show that region, cultural aspects, education, and socioeconomic status often play a role in the uninvolved parenting style.

Some cases are hereditary. A parent following this model may have been brought up in an environment filled with negativity, where expressions of genuine love, guidance, support, or positive experiences involving communication with their parent were non- existent.

Researchers associate each parenting style with child outcomes related to social skills and academic achievement. Children with disinterested parents will most likely struggle in nearly every area of their life; cognitively, emotionally, and socially.

Disinterested parents are often so emotionally unresponsive during their child’s childhood, that come adulthood, the same child who was dismissed on an emotional level  in childhood, may find that their adult relationships become deeply impacted by existing attachment issues.

A lack of boundaries in the home makes it very difficult for the child of an uninvolved parent to learn more socially acceptable behaviour, which is why children with uninvolved parents are more likely to be difficult to manage.

In some cases, a disinterested parent may simply have a lot of their own problems (depression, working too much, or emotional problems). They may want to give to their children emotionally, but just don’t know how. Parents in this situation may not be able to see how uninvolved they actually are, and could benefit from support.




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