Education & Family

Many teenagers 'neglected by uninterested parents'

Teenagers Image copyright Thinkstock

Tens of thousands of teenagers are being neglected in some way by parents who do not check up on them or offer enough support, a charity says.

The Children's Society says as many as three pupils in every GCSE classroom in England could be experiencing neglect.

It says a lack of parental interest can lead teenagers to act more waywardly, by getting very drunk for example.

Teenagers need as much care as younger children, it says, adding that many parents do not see it that way.

The charity commissioned researchers from the University of York to investigate teenagers' experience by surveying a representative group of 2,000 12- to 15-year-olds.

Teenagers are often viewed as more resilient than younger children, says the report, "but they still need dedicated care to meet their physical and emotional needs, to support their education and to keep them safe".

"A lack of consistent attention to any, or all, of these aspects of parenting can constitute neglect," it says.

The researchers said neglect of teenagers could include "parents failing to monitor their children's activities outside the home, not making sure they get health care when they need it, not taking an interest in their education, or failing to provide the crucial emotional support teenagers need by helping them if they are facing problems or if they are upset".

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'Rarely caring'

The researchers asked if the teenagers' parents and carers:

  • showed an interest in what they were doing at school
  • offered support if they had problems
  • took care of them if they were ill
  • monitored what they were doing when they were out of the house

A significant minority, some 15%, said they had experienced some form of neglect.

And one in 12 said they lacked emotional support, with their parents rarely or never encouraging them or helping with problems over the previous year.

The research suggested that those who were neglected like that were more likely to behave in ways that risked their health or future prospects.

Nearly half (46%) of teenagers who said they had experienced emotional neglect - with parents who rarely acted in a caring or supportive way towards them - said they had got very drunk recently.

They were more than twice as likely as those who did not experience neglect to have played truant from school and three times as likely to have smoked.

Teenagers who had experienced this neglect were also significantly more likely to be dissatisfied with their lives and pessimistic about their futures.


These neglected teenagers also tended to report doubts about their competence, having little faith that anyone cares about them.

These feelings became more severe if more than one of these types of neglect had been experienced over the same period.

Children who reported frequent support from their parents were more likely to have better levels of wellbeing.

However, the research also suggested there was a difficult balance to be struck between showing concern and care and intruding in teenagers' new-found freedom.

"So maybe it is not surprising that the 14-15-year-olds in our survey said they were less happy when parents were frequently asking about what they were doing away from home," the report said.

The charity says although bringing up teenagers is seen by most as a challenge, there is little support available for parents who struggle.

Its senior researcher, Phil Raws, said: "There is a tension between the need for parents to supervise and monitor their children and the need of teenagers to have independence.

"It is certainly the case that the desire of young people to have freedom and choice in their lives can conflict with the need for parents to keep their young people safe.

"We plan to explore these issues in more detail in future, but it is certainly the case that, to negotiate these challenges, parents and teenagers have to communicate well and build trust over time."

A Department for Education spokesperson said: "All children, whatever their age, must feel safe and supported at home.

"We are strengthening the child protection system to make sure children who are at risk are identified early and get the help they need - this includes support to help parents to better care for their children, where necessary."

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