What Is Uninvolved Parenting?

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Although we each parent our children in unique ways, researchers have pinpointed four main parenting styles found in the general population. Clinical psychologist Diane Baumrind came up with the framework for this concept, identifying three main styles: authoritative parenting, authoritarian parenting, and permissive parenting. Later, researchers Maccoby and Martin fine-tuned these concepts and added a fourth parenting style: uninvolved parenting.

Of the four parenting styles, uninvolved parenting—which is characterized by low emotional responsiveness along with a lack of supervision and support—is often considered the most harmful parenting style and has the most negative effects on child development.

Uninvolved parenting is sometimes referred to as neglectful parenting, indifferent parenting, or unresponsive parenting. “Uninvolved parenting is a parenting style in which a parent does not meet the needs of their child,” explains Meghan Downey, PsyD, a clinical psychologist. “The parent provides little guidance, discipline, responsiveness, or nurturance to the child.”

In unresponsive parenting, few demands are placed on children by their parents, explains Whitney Casares, MD, MPH, pediatrician, founder, and CEO of Modern Mommy Doc and The Modern Mamas Club App. Parents are often dismissive of their kids’ feelings, and typically quite neglectful, she adds. “As a pediatrician, I don’t recommend this parenting style,” Dr. Casares offers.

Qualities of an Uninvolved Parent

If you are concerned that your parenting style is uninvolved in some way, or if you suspect you were raised by an uninvolved parent, you might be curious about some of the characteristics that define this parenting style.

The main quality that characterizes uninvolved parents is a lack of participation in all aspects of parenting, says Mayra Mendez, PhD, LMFT, a licensed psychotherapist and a program coordinator at Providence Saint John's Child and Family Development Center. “The uninvolved parent may show limited to no awareness of circumstances that pertain to the child and their emotional presence might be described as empty, cold, or neglectful with unloving and uncaring behaviors towards the child,” she says.

There are a few other characteristics that can help you identify this style, says Dr. Downey. For example, uninvolved parents may show a lack of attunement to the child’s emotional state, they may neglect to make any rules at home, and they may demand little in terms of their child’s behavior and growth.

These traits may also get translated to the school environment, where the uninvolved parent doesn’t participate or show support for the child’s schooling or extracurricular interests, Dr. Downey adds.

Examples of Uninvolved Parenting

When it comes to what uninvolved parenting looks like in real life, Dr. Casares says there is a wide spectrum. “Some [parents] may only provide basics like food and shelter for their kids, whereas others may have their children adhere to only basic rules, like wearing seat belts, but don’t pay attention to their kids’ physical or emotional needs on a larger scale,” she describes.

Uninvolved parenting might look like a parent who ignores a child when they cry or doesn’t try to explore the reasons why their child is upset, says Dr. Mendez. On the other hand, some uninvolved parents seem to expect too much from their children. “The parent may decline to help a child learn a skill, engage in a task, or facilitate the care of basic needs because the parents believe that the child should provide for themselves,” Dr. Mendez explains.

Other examples of uninvolved parenting include ignoring a child when they attempt to speak to you, showing a lack of interest in your child’s passions (sports, art, books, friendships, etc.), and not expressing genuine love or care for your child, explains Dr. Downey. Uninvolved parents are more likely to leave their children unsupervised than other parents, she adds.

Effects of Uninvolved Parenting

According to research, the uninvolved parenting style is the one most likely to have negative effects on children. Although many children brought up by uninvolved parents become independent, they often do so out of necessity and as a means of survival. Studies have found that kids raised in this parenting style may have difficulty managing their feelings, don’t develop healthy emotional coping mechanisms, and may have both academic and social challenges.

These difficulties can endure into adolescence and beyond. For example, studies indicate that teens raised in this style are more likely to engage in illegal behavior, such as theft, vandalism, rape, and assault. They are more likely to abuse alcohol and smoke cigarettes. Additionally, they are more likely to experience low self-esteem, increased rates of depression, and increased behavioral issues.

How to Heal From an Uninvolved Parent

If you were raised by an uninvolved parents and are exploring the impact this parenting style had on you, you probably have a lot of questions and concerns. You might want to know how to heal from the damage this has caused you. If you are a parent yourself, you might want to ensure that you don’t raise your own child similarly.

First of all, just being aware of how this parenting style may have impacted you—and looking to make some changes—is a vital first step, says Dr. Mendez. Recovery from this parenting style begins by becoming aware of the negative parenting behaviors you were exposed to, considering how you’ve internalized them, and reflecting on how they’ve impacted your life.

After you’ve come to terms with the impact of being raised by this parenting style, you can begin the work of healing. “Once awareness and consciousness are raised about an internalized negative parenting style, such as being raised by an uninvolved parent, recovery then involves learning new and alternative ways of parenting to optimize a healthy parent-child relationship,” says Dr. Mendez.

In many cases, healing from uninvolved parenting requires professional therapy. Dr. Downey says that psychotherapy is a great way to learn social skills, increase self-confidence, and learn self-love. Therapy can also help you learn to build more trusting interpersonal relationships and develop some of the healthy attachment skills that are hard to learn when you are raised by an uninvolved parent.

You may also want to consider taking parenting classes, says Dr. Downey. “If the adult child becomes a parent themselves, taking parenting classes or working on parenting styles themselves in therapy can help them develop new skills to have attuned, supportive, boundaried, meaningful relationships with their own children,” she describes.

A Word From Verywell

If you are grappling with the fact that you were raised by uninvolved parents, or if you are concerned that you are raising your own child in this way, you may be dealing with some intense, complicated emotions. That’s normal and completely understandable. Try to keep in mind that although uninvolved parenting is considered a harmful parenting style, it’s one that many people adopt, not because they are ill-intentioned, but because it’s all they know.

Remember, help is out there. Consider speaking to a therapist or counselor as you unpack your feelings. If you have any questions about parenting your own child with a healthier approach, consider reaching out to your child's pediatrician for guidance and support.

5 Sources
Verywell Family uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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Additional Reading

By Wendy Wisner
Wendy Wisner is a lactation consultant and writer covering maternal/child health, parenting, general health and wellness, and mental health. She has worked with breastfeeding parents for over a decade, and is a mom to two boys.