Impact of Parental Neglect on Teenagers
Children’s need for care don’t stop when they become teenagers. And, interestingly, neither do parents’ need for help and support in raising them.
Bringing up teenagers is a challenge for most parents. Every mother and father will oftentimes struggle to know what course of action. Whilst as a society we increasingly recognize the importance of parenting when children are very young, there is relatively little acknowledgement or recognition of the vital role parents play in supporting their children through the long, and sometimes difficult, transition from childhood to adulthood.
A 20-year long research by The Children’s Society has pointed to poor care by parents during their children’s teenage years as the background context for teenagers who later have problems. Some of them may run away from home, or become involved in risky or harmful activities. Others may be alienated from parents who they think show little interest in them, and may become increasingly isolated, with significant impact on their general well-being and physical/mental health.
Teenagers are often viewed as more resilient than younger children. In many cases that it is true. But they still need dedicated care to meet their physical and emotional needs, support their educational aspirations, and to keep them safe. A lack of consistent attention to any, or all, of these aspects of parenting can constitute neglect.
Some telltale signs of neglect of teenagers include: parents failing to monitor their children's activities outside the home; not making sure they get proper health care when they need it; not taking an interest in their education; or failing to provide them crucial emotional support when they are facing problems or when they are upset.
Neglect can initially lead to problems related to mental ill health, substance abuse, school (attendance, behavior and attainment), use of offensive language and early sexual activity. These can be precursors to even greater problems. These neglected teenagers also tended to report doubts about their competence, having little faith that anyone really cares about them. These feelings become more severe if they experience over a longer period of time.
Children who reported frequent support from their parents were more likely to have better levels of wellbeing. However, it is difficult for parents to balance between showing concern and care, and the perception of intruding into teenagers' new-found freedom.
I personally feel that there is always a divisive tension between the need of parents to supervise and monitor their children to keep them safe and the need of teenagers to have independence that could lead to discord in the family, unless of course it is handled delicately. As concerned parents we need to study and gain greater understanding of this important topic. But if you are already facing this challenge, in order to overcome it you need to communicate well with your children and build trust over time. There is no short-cut.
All children, whatever their age, must feel safe and supported at home. This is true even for teenagers despite their outer appearance of self-sufficiency. It is important to identify children early on if they are going to be at greater risk so that they can be provided the help they need. What often overlooked and is of perhaps even greater importance is for parents themselves to seek help – from professionals, family and friends – if they feel things are going out of control.