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Parental Neglect: The Passive Abuse

In contrast to the strong love/ hate emotions physically abusive parents feel toward their children, neglectful parents indicate little feeling for them. They simply don’t care.

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In an issue of Psychology Today, educator Avis Brenner identifies a form of child abuse affecting an estimated million and a half American children – parental neglect.  In contrast to the strong love/ hate emotions physically abusive parents feel toward their children, neglectful parents indicate little feeling for them.  They simply don’t care.

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Neglect assumes many forms, ranging from extreme neglect (in which children are emotionally abandoned, dirty, badly clothed, and left to scrounge for their own food) to moderate neglect (in which meals are haphazard, parents ignore their children’s chronic or mild illness, and emotional  support, though present, is minimal).

But not all child neglect has a physical dimension. “Some neglected children are totally  well cared for, says Psychology Today, “but have parents who give no love or attention, no moral guidance, no praise or punishment,  According to the National Center on Child Abuse and Neglect, these emotionally neglectful parents encourage antisocial behavior, including drug and alcohol abuse, by refusing to know or care what happens to their children.”

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In the book Helping Children Cope with Stress Brenner identifies behavior in elementary school children that might be indicative of parental neglect.  A neglected child will probably not exhibit every one of these signs; nor does the presence of one or two of these symptoms necessarily indicate that a child is neglected.

  • Rejected by classmates, makes no friends
  • Comes to school too early, doesn’t want to leave
  • Falls asleep in school
  • Destroys toys and teaching materials
  • Withdrawn and depressed; or overactive and aggressive
  • Doesn’t cry when hurt
  • Sees self as failure, doesn’t try
  • Older children may defy teacher, rebel, be cruel, lie, or steal
  • Parents refuse help, don’t follow through on requests, fail to keep appointments

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User Comments
  1. Petalm

    On November 7, 2009 at 1:03 pm


    I’ve read some terrible biographies by kids who were neglected.

  2. Karen Gross

    On November 7, 2009 at 2:11 pm


    This form of abuse is heart wrenching for a teacher to see. There are no bruises to report, but you can tell – all of those signs that you listed are things that I have seen in students.

    Thank you for writing this – I hope it opens the eyes and hearts of teachers and others who are in a position to help.

  3. Sourav

    On November 7, 2009 at 3:05 pm


    Very important social issue you\’ve raised here. Good article.

  4. Frances Lawrence

    On November 7, 2009 at 6:25 pm


    It is so very sad. The points listed could indicate various problems, my son with Asperger syndrome would meet a number of those symptoms, so it is important to consider the whole picture.

  5. Snooky

    On November 7, 2009 at 7:02 pm


    people who have children and neglect them do not deserve to be called parents. They only add to the growing number mental and moreally mal nourished human animations in our societies. This ought to be a class one felony.

  6. Snooky

    On November 7, 2009 at 7:05 pm


    Exclusive of my previous comment or those with symptom associated problems that are no result of parenting but physical entities.

  7. chitragopi

    On November 7, 2009 at 11:44 pm


    You have pictured it so true. Excellent article.

  8. Apres Ski

    On November 8, 2009 at 2:21 pm


    I swore you were writing about my mother and some of the kids I grew up with! Now I can print this out & give it to her for her Christmas present.

    She doesn’t believe in Christmas . . . just the presents!!

  9. Apres Ski

    On November 8, 2009 at 2:27 pm


    This also sounds like Debbie Rowe. Mother of 2 of Michael Jackson’s children. She has nothing to do with them . . . except for taking the money to have them. She’s made some deal to be
    *included* in their lives, but doesn’t see them physically, makes to attempt to contact them or even speak to them. She has no daily decisions and they do not see her on holidays.

    How’s that for today, Neglectful Mother . . .

  10. svishnugopal

    On November 9, 2009 at 12:34 pm


    wonderful topic you have chosen, the bes i liked out of all your articles is this one…the pictures are really very selective, you\\\’ve done a great job, love to read more from you…

  11. SharifaMcFarlane

    On November 10, 2009 at 11:17 pm


    Some parents who are neglectfull are like that because they never learned how to be different.
    When they were growing up they were never shown that kind of attention.
    They learnt that to be a good parent was to make sure children were properly fed and had a roof over their heads.
    I am not making excuses for this because it does damage the children emotionally.

  12. Authoress Terry E. Lyle

    On November 17, 2009 at 5:57 pm


    This kind of thing tears at my heart strings, I wish more people would speak up instead of remaining silent, while the madness continues and another child is lost to pain and despair.

  13. Mark

    On May 9, 2010 at 1:38 pm


    This form of neglect has destroyed my childhood, I was extremely antisocial, but I believe not only my parents were the main cause of influence, but a small proporotion of it came from my school. Not the teachers or anybody, but the students. All of the students seemed to simply not care about anything. You look around in the cafeteria….you hear no laughing…you barely hear any talking. Of course people are talking, but I felt as soon as I sit at a table, NOBODY talks.

    I honestly feel this is about 90% of the parents fault, and 10% of the teachers fault for failing to address antisocial behavior.
    Nobody is given comments on their report cards anymore in reponse to their antisocial behavior. It is quite saddening to me how this has ruined my childhood, and I am receiving extensive therapy for the immaculate damage it has brought upon my well-being. ‘

    The effects of this type of abuse is probably the worst that can and has happened to me, its a silent form of abuse. A smothering-your-mouth-you-can’t-breath type of abuse.

    Shame on you, parents. Shame on your excessive need to pop babies out without even the slightest thought of caring for your child. This is the epitome of patheticness.

  14. Mark

    On May 9, 2010 at 1:57 pm


    I have been isolated in my home for 17 years straight without the help of anybody. My parents never asked if I wanted to seek for therapy, they barely reminded me to go outside, and the only thing that they provided me with is economic support.

    I do not call that parenting. I call parents your teachers. I call parents to help you in the right direction morally. I do not care if I live in an Igloo with low income, if my parents are there for me, I’m there for them.

    That’s what people do not seem to realize, if you oppose child abortion, then at least consider the effects of you ignoring them 98% of the time if you do conceive the child. Me not asking you questions does not give you the privelege to completely ignore me.

    This is why I have so many issues with thinking of raising children of my own. When and If I do raise children of my own, I will not merely ignore them. I will go over everything about what happened at school, if you made any friends, what is the school enviroment like? Do you like it here? These are the questions a caring parent should ask of their child. Simply providing them food and a place to live does not grant you the entitlement of Parent. You are not a parent at that point, just a person whom they use until they turn 18 and move out of your depressing home.

    Now I’m sitting here in my shrink’s office talking about all these problems I’ve just mentioned. Now who’s fault is this? In my honest opinion, it is mostly if not all of the parents fault.
    Failing to address their social issues is the number one reason why I am schizoprenic to this very day.

    Now before you conceive a child, please ask yourself, for the sake of everybody’s mental health, to please GIVE A DAMN.

    Thank you.

  15. Mark

    On May 9, 2010 at 2:15 pm


    I am still suffering socially and mentally to this very day. 17 years of hardly any communication between other people and my isolation in my room has led to me deteriorate before I finally sought help in the form of therapy. The reason why I enclosed myself is because I did not want to be a part of this society. I wanted to integrate with society, but the fear was having to communicate with the general stupidity of americans. Their rudeness and unrelenting rumors they pass around because they themselves have no life and have nothing better to do are one of the reasons I decided to say screw it and live in isolation. Also, their own ignorance about the world thats shaping around them instilled great confusement in me.

    But the fact of the matter is, my parents could have easily sought help for me before this. Easily. But the fact remains is the failure to address my enermous problems has led to me breaking down emotionally while engaging conversation with my therapist. I had a veil, or an emotional blockage/wall, that I could only feel on certain days. Most of the time I had no feelings, a self defense mechanism that has helped to prevent my mind to further deteroriate. Without it, I may have well became insane and sent to a ward for the rest of my life.

    This is the sad and true story of me, and I blame it mostly on my parents for failing to even help me with a professional health counselor.

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