Reference Work Entry

Encyclopedia of Child Behavior and Development

pp 800-802

Indifferent Parenting Style

  • Maria-Eva TsolaAffiliated withDepartment of Psychology, University of Nicosia
  • , Xenia Anastassiou-HadjicharalambousAffiliated withDepartment of Psychology, University of Nicosia


Disengaged parenting style; Neglectful parenting style; Nonconformist parenting; Rejecting parenting style; Uninvolved parenting style


One of two subtypes of the general style of permissive parenting. (Definition 1: Permissive parenting is a style of parenting identified by the research of Diana Baumrind that is characterized by few demands, excessive permissiveness and lack of structure, rules and limitations.) Parents whose behavior fits in this category are uninvolved with their children and fail to provide adequate support and structure.


Theoretical definitions of neglect vary, in part, depending on the purpose for which the definition is used. In general, neglect is conceptualized by most experts as parental behaviors that result in negative consequences to the child [5]. Unlike other forms of child abuse, neglect is an act of omission in care rather than commissions that endanger or harm children.

Neglectful parents demonstrate a failure to provide adequate medical care, nutrition, education, and age-appropriate supervision for their children, as well as safety, emotional contact, and sufficient environmental stimulation and structure. Definitions of neglect also involve exposure of children to spousal abuse, as well as permitted substance abuse and other maladaptive conduct by a child [1]. These elements can occur in combination with each other and with other forms of abuse.

The most pervasive feature characterizing indifferent parents appears to be a variety of parenting skills deficits. Indifferent parents are described as neither demanding nor responsive to the child. They engage in fewer positive interactions with children, less overall interaction, and more insensitive interactions. The indifferent parent is disengaged and emotionally distant from the child, is not dedicated to parenting roles and is disinterested in helping foster optimal development of the child. This type of parent tends to view parenting as a burden and may consequently limit both the quality and quantity of time dedicated to the child. Additionally, indifferent parents fail to implement guidelines and set regulations to control the child.

Even though research is not conclusive, biological, personality-emotional, socio-cultural, and experiential factors have been proposed in the etiology of the behavior termed indifferent parenting. Experts agree that there is no single cause of child neglect; rather, a variety of factors are thought to be implicated in the production of behaviors that are typical of neglect. Several studies have indicated that indifferent parents are deficient in parenting skills, have more inappropriate expectations of their children, and lack both information concerning child development, and knowledge of the complexities of the parent–child bond [5, 11, 12]. Further parental characteristics that have been found to be associated with an indifferent parenting style include impulsivity, confusion, apathy, emotional detachment, and mental illness. In terms of personal demographics, parents who neglect their children are more likely than controls to be female, single, older, younger, and undereducated [12]. The absence of the father that has been observed in a significant number of neglectful families means lower income and less tangible resources to provide for children’s needs [5]. Additional factors involved in the etiology of child neglect include poverty, unemployment, social isolation, loneliness, low socio-economic status, and substance abuse [3, 5, 6, 12].

Relevance to Childhood Development

The idea that early, maladaptive parent–child relations play a fundamental role in psychopathology has long been central to developmental theorizing. A substantial body of research suggests a strong relation between family dynamics and psychological adjustment. Parenting styles have been found to have a significant impact on a child’s physical well-being, psychosocial adjustment, academic achievement, and involvement in drugs or alcohol [13, 5, 12]. Indifferent parenting has been shown consistently to have detrimental effects on the adolescent’s mental health and development, leading to a variety of emotional and behavior problems. Children from neglectful environments experience developmental, neurological, emotional, and behavioral disturbances that prevent healthy growth and development [12].

In terms of physical health, neglected children have been found to suffer more problems, including malnutrition, failure to thrive, special needs, impaired visual and motor skills, poor hygiene, and substance abuse [12]. During infancy and childhood, sustained neglect can result in maladaptive socio-emotional patterns: neglected children demonstrate greater dependency, tend to have poor social skills and insecure attachment relationships, and show little concern for their peers’ distress. Neglected children also tend to express more negative emotions and to exhibit more avoidance, noncompliance, and conduct disorder. They have more difficulty monitoring and regulating their emotions [1, 6, 12]. Numerous studies indicate that indifferent or neglectful parenting tends to foster higher rates of impulsivity and involvement in delinquent behavior [4, 79, 11, 13]. Insufficient parental involvement, guidance and supervision have been shown to produce a disrupted and atypical attachment pattern between the child and the parent [10]. In turn, these early disturbances in attachment relations appear to lay the foundation for disturbances in developmental processes that can lead to various forms of psychopathology.

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© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2011
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