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Uninvolved Parenting – Why It’s The Worst Parenting Style

Uninvolved, or neglectful, parenting is a parenting style characterized by low responsiveness and low demandingness. 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.

kid sitting in front of window in uninvolved parenting styles, not the same as authoritative parenting style

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: neglectful, or uninvolved, parenting style​1​.

These 4 parenting styles are categorized based on two dimensions: responsiveness and demandingness.

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Characteristics of Uninvolved Parenting

Uninvolved parents are neither responsive nor demanding. If permissive parents are at one end of the responsive spectrum, then uninvolved parents occupy the other end. In terms of being demanding, authoritarian parents who have high expectations for their children to meet are the opposite of uninvolved parents.

Here are the common patterns of behavior an uninvolved or neglectful parent would show:

  • Show no warmth or affection towards their children.
  • Act indifferent and distant. They do not help or take care of their children’s basic needs.
  • Do not provide emotional supports, such as belonging and encouragement​2​.
  • 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 abusive​3​.

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, including depression, alcoholism, and substance abuse.

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 selection of mates predisposed to substance abuse or other mental health problems are at an even higher risk of becoming neglectful.

Effects of Uninvolved Parenting

Uninvolved parenting is the worst style of parenting among the four because research has found that it can affect a child’s well being and outcomes in development severely​5​ Neglectful parenting style can have the following adverse effects in a young child.

Neglected kids:

  • are more impulsive and have less self-control​6​
  • underachieve in school​7,8​
  • have fewer emotional regulation skills​9​
  • lack social skills
  • have low self-esteem​10​
  • show increased chance of mood disorders such as depression​11​
  • tend to develop Borderline Personality Disorder​12​
  • suffer higher risk for substance abuse. Neglected children of substance-abused parents are 4-10 times more likely to develop substance abuse themselves​4​.

Is Uninvolved Parenting 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 or not supervise their child when they’re outside of the house. 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 caring. They can also have high expectation of their child’s behavior, such as having good conduct and high school performance.

Are Busy Parents Uninvolved Parents

Busy parents are not necessarily neglectful parents. Parents who hold highly demanding jobs inevitably have less time left for their kids. But busy parents may still be warm and caring. They can still show interest in their children’s lives and create emotional connections when spending time together, even if it’s not as frequent.

Psychologists and experts agree that kids with uninvolved or neglectful parents generally have the worst outcomes. An uninvolved parent is not simply people who give a child more freedom or less hand-holding. They neglect their other duties as parents.


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    Berzenski SR. Distinct emotion regulation skills explain psychopathology and problems in social relationships following childhood emotional abuse and neglect. Dev Psychopathol. Published online March 22, 2018:483-496. doi:10.1017/s0954579418000020
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    Pinquart M. Associations of Parenting Styles and Dimensions with Academic Achievement in Children and Adolescents: A Meta-analysis. Educ Psychol Rev. Published online September 7, 2015:475-493. doi:10.1007/s10648-015-9338-y
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    Shipman K, Edwards A, Brown A, Swisher L, Jennings E. Managing emotion in a maltreating context: A pilot study examining child neglect. Child Abuse & Neglect. Published online September 2005:1015-1029. doi:10.1016/j.chiabu.2005.01.006
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