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Uninvolved parenting by Dr Tamara Scully, Clinical Psychologist and Expert in The Wellbeing Hub

Uninvolved parenting is a term used to describe parents who show a complete lack of emotional involvement with their children and a complete lack of responsiveness towards their children’s needs. This type of parenting is neglectful and has the capacity to negatively impact almost every facet of life for children.

When Diana Baumrind described parenting styles in her 1960’s research she identified three – authoritarian, authoritative and permissive. Uninvolved parenting was added later. Baumrind used two primary dimensions to categorise her parenting styles – parental responsiveness and parental demandingness. Parents classified as uninvolved are low on both dimensions.

Uninvolved parents are often detached from their children’s lives. They provide minimal attention and support and are often completely indifferent to the wellbeing of their children.

Recognising uninvolved parents…
  • Unresponsive
  • Cold and dismissive
  • Little guidance and support
  • Lack of rules and boundaries
  • Only meeting the most basic needs of their children
  • Skip school events and parent- teacher meetings
  • Excessively limit their interaction with their children
While all parenting styles have pros and cons it is generally accepted that the uninvolved parenting style has the most detrimental impact on children
  • Children learn that feelings don’t matter and are not worth sharing, making positive relationships incredibly difficult to establish and maintain
  • Consistent dismissal creates a sense of emotional numbness that can be difficult to understand or change
  • Children of uninvolved parents often believe that there is something fundamentally wrong with them as a person and describe feeling different from other people

In adolescence these children are much more likely to engage in more externalising behaviours including drug and alcohol abuse. These teens have lower self-esteem and a much higher propensity to depressive symptoms. When children are consistently emotionally neglected this can have long-lasting consequences on their emotional health.

So, what can we do….

The foundation of resilience is relationships and while the primary care giving relationship is fundamental to this it is not the only relationship that matters.

What these young people need is to have the experience of being seen and valued for who they are.  This essentially means being human and responding with warmth and empathy. When young people know there are people who have their backs this allows them to feel safe and when we feel safe it is so much easier to take risks and try new things which is what builds our resilience.

Dr Karen Triesman, a UK clinical psychologist, coined the phrase ‘every interaction is an intervention’ which sits beautifully alongside Dr Bruce Perry’s idea of therapeutic dosing – every time a young person has a positive interaction (however brief) with the adults around them these interactions become hard wired and they start to trust that there are safe relationships in the world.

For the young people of parents with an uninvolved parenting style it is the little things that are the most powerful.  It is about greeting them warmly in the morning, it is about asking about how the weekend went, it is about smiling at them, it is about saying “that is really hard” when they are struggling.  So much of the time our young people just want to be seen and for these young people, seeing them is the most precious gift you can offer.

The Wellbeing Hub from Teen Tips is created by experts and updated with new content weekly, responding to the latest mental health and wellbeing issues affecting young people and their families today. Come on board today and enjoy one week’s free trial then £7.99 per month. SIGN UP HERE.

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