Understanding Adolescent Neglect

Troubled Teens

Our groundbreaking new research report lifts the lid on the extent of neglectful parenting of teenagers in homes across the country, as well as our society's widespread failure to understand and respond to the lack of care and support that many teenagers receive.


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Troubled Teens

Tens of thousands of teenagers across England are suffering neglect at home 

girl sitting on stairs

Our new report, Troubled Teens

Troubled Teens: A study of the links between parenting and adolescent neglect is part of our comprehensive new nationwide research programme.

Informed by young people themselves, our report lifts the lid on the shocking scale of teenage neglect. Teenagers described experiences with parents or carers who failed to monitor their activities outside of the home, make sure they got adequate healthcare or took little interest in their education.

download the report

Tens of thousands of teenagers neglected

What, exactly, is teenage neglect?

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

While our research shows that the majority of teenagers are supported by their families,a lack of attention to any, or all, types of care can be neglectful and link to poor well-being and to risky behaviour that can jeopardise a teenager's health or future prospects.  

Child neglect has become topical in recent years and there is now a widespread acceptance that poor parental care in early childhood can limit life chances and is bad for society in the long term.  But neglect of adolescents has remained low on the agenda  and we are calling for a step change in the way that the parenting of teenagers is viewed.


Types of care

Educational - Interest in a teenager's education

Emotional - Help with a child's problems, or support if they are upset

Supervision - Knowing a teenagers whereabouts and activities

Physical - Ensuring a teenager is healthy and taking them to visit a doctor if needed



What is well-being?

Our well-being research programme, initiated in 2005, fills the gap in research regarding young people's views of their own well-being. Learn more on our well-being webpage.


What teenagers told us

To do the survey for Troubled Teens we asked young people how often their parents did lots of different things to care for and support them, and about:

  • Who they lived with

  • What they had or their family's resources

  • Their experiences at school

  • What they had done which might be risky (e.g. getting drunk)

  • Their subjective well-being

  • Their health

We included questions on well-being because we know that this is a useful way to find out about young people’s lives and how they feel about themselves – from our research which has involved tens of thousands of young people since 2005 – and we thought there might be important links between parental neglect and teenagers’ well-being.

 

'as emotional neglect rises, well-being drops'

What we found

Our research shows that thousands of teenagers could be failing to get the crucial support they need at home, with one in seven 14 and 15 year olds experiencing a form of neglectful parenting.

 

Neglect at home during teenage years can be as damaging as neglect during early childhood

Teenage boy and girl

 

Emotional support

For years our research has shown that emotional support is critical for a good childhood. Our Troubled Teens report found that emotional support was the type of parental care most strongly linked to higher well-being for 14 and 15 year olds, but also most commonly lacking.

In our survey many more 14 and 15 year olds reported low levels of emotional support than the 12 and 13 year olds who took part. Three times as many of the older group said their parents 'hardly ever' or 'never' helped if they had problems, or supported them if they were upset - suggesting that many parents don't prioritise this type of support as children become older. 

graph 1

emotional neglect graph

Emotional neglect

When it came to emotional neglect, we found that significantly more 14 and 15 year olds who had been neglected also reported risk-taking behaviour than their counterparts who had been emotionally supported.  For all the things we asked about more than twice as many neglected young people were taking risks with their health and their future prospects - for example 27% had truanted from school at least in the past month but only 13% of emotionally supported teenagers had missed school without permission. 

Different forms of parenting and neglect

For our survey we asked about different forms of parenting - about a range of ways of providing care and support to teenagers that were all important according to the young people and adults we consulted when we designed our questionnaire.  The types of parenting we included were 'educational support', 'emotional support', 'physical care' and 'supervision' (the report explains these categories in more detail).

We found that different types of parental neglect linked in varying ways to different aspects of teenagers' lives.  For example, as the chart shows, more than 9 times as many young people who had experienced educational neglect said their health was 'bad' or 'very bad' than those who were supported in relation to their education - but the differences were lower for other types of parenting. There was no significant difference in the numbers of young people reporting bad health who had been neglected or cared for in relation to our fourth category - supervision.

parenting and neglect

neglect and reductions graph

Multiple neglect and reductions in well-being

Of the four types of parenting we explored in our study, some young people had experienced more than one form of neglect at the same time.  When we looked at all of our respondents' answers to questions on well-being, we found that experiencing multiple forms of neglect linked to significantly lower scores for well-being than having experienced one form of neglect or no neglect at all.  

The hidden harms of emotional neglect

What needs to change

 

No child should be left feeling that no one cares about them

It is deeply worrying that so many teenagers in this country are suffering neglect. Teenagers are often wrongly seen as needing less care and support than younger children. We need to provide more support to parents in the difficult role of bringing up teenagers and not to blame them.

 

We need a step change in the way we view parenting teenagers

We are calling for a step change in the way the parenting of teenagers is viewed, along with better support and advice for parents too often struggling with the challenges of bringing up teenagers. Very limited support and advice currently exists for families with teenage children. The Government has a massive role to play in making sure the needs of teenagers, and their parents, are never forgotten. We want the Government to provide parenting support focussed on the needs of teenagers as part of its Life Chances Strategy. Society must not give up on teens.