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Understanding Adolescent Neglect: Troubled Teens

Understanding Adolescent Neglect: Troubled Teens 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.

Number of pages:

92 pages

Date published:

What is adolescent neglect?

Neglect is the form of maltreatment most often recorded in official safeguarding data, regardless of the age of the children concerned, and is the most prevalent form of maltreatment young people experience according to research. Studies have shown that this is true in all developed, western countries.

Neglect can lead to significant problems – including with mental ill health, substance misuse, school (attendance, behaviour and attainment), offending and early sexual activity – and can be the precursor of serious harm. Policy and practice activity around neglect has increased in England in recent years, alongside the publication of fresh research into the issue, but for the most part this has focused on neglect of young children.

This may be for many reasons. Neglect continues to be regarded as being a particularly complex and multi-faceted issue, sometimes seen as being an intractable problem – and there is evidence to suggest that many adults, including the professionals who work with them, think that adolescents have a natural resilience to poor parenting experiences.

Our research programme, in partnership with the University of York, seeks answer the following questions:

  • What is ‘adolescent neglect’?
  • How much adolescent neglect is there?
  • What are the contexts for adolescent neglect?
  • What are the outcomes of adolescent neglect?

Key findings

The findings are for 14–15 year olds who lived in one home. 

As the first use of a new measure and methodology for researching neglect they should be regarded with caution. Further research is needed to ensure the efficacy of the approach and the reliability of the findings.

Parenting norms

  • The majority of 14 and 15 year olds stated that their parents ‘always’ exhibited all the behaviours that were asked about – with the largest proportions reporting high levels of physical care and supervision, but proportionally less reported the same frequency for educational or emotional support.
  • Reporting of the frequency of inputs for all forms of care and support reduced marginally between the ages of 12–13 and 14–15 years old, as might be expected, but substantially fewer 14–15 year olds said they received frequent emotional support.

The complexity of parenting adolescents

  • As a general ‘rule’ more parental input was found to be beneficial – ie high frequency of care and support was associated with a lower propensity for risktaking behaviours and with higher levels of well-being. The strongest correlations were between emotional support and well-being (eg for life satisfaction and ‘relatedness’).
  • However, there were some types of parenting where less intense input had benefits – eg more young people with a high score for life satisfaction also reported medium levels of educational support and supervision than those whose parents ‘always’ monitored in and out of school activity.

The scale of neglect of 14– 15 year olds

  • 8% of young people reported neglectful levels of parenting in relation to emotional support. The same percentage had experienced supervisory neglect. 5% of young people reported neglect for physical care, and 4% for educational support.
  • Around one in seven young people (15%) reported at least one form of neglectful parenting. Most (58%) had experienced one form in isolation, with almost half this group indicating supervisory neglect.
  • Reports of all four forms of neglect co-occurring were rare among this sample (just 1%).

The contexts for neglect of 14–15 year olds

  • Young people who were materially deprived (lacking a number of possessions, resources or experiences which were common to their peer group) were more likely to be neglected than their peers – though this may have been because their parents or carers elected not to spend money on them rather than because the household they lived in was deprived.
  • More boys reported lower levels of parental supervision than girls (11% of boys were neglected in relation to this aspect of parenting, compared to 5% of girls).
  • More young people living in lone parent families were neglected in relation to educational support (though not for emotional support, physical care or supervision) than those living in other family forms.

The negative associations of neglect of 14–15 year olds

  • Many neglected young people also had bad health. 28% of those whose parents had not been supportive around their education said their health was ‘bad’ or ‘very bad’ (as opposed to 3% of those who were ‘cared for’ in relation to this type of parenting), and 21% of those who had been physically neglected gave the same response (compared to Troubled Teens A study of the links between parenting and adolescent neglect just 3% of the ‘cared for’ group for this parenting category).
  • Neglected young people were significantly more likely to behave in ways which risked their health or jeopardised their future opportunities – eg for emotional support, 27% had truanted at least once in the past month, compared to 13% of cared for, and 46% had got really drunk in the past few months compared to 22%.
  • There was an association between any experience of neglect and young people’s well-being, but those who reported multiple forms of neglect (neglect in relation to two or more categories of parenting behaviour) had significantly worse levels of well-being than their counterparts who were neglected for one type of parenting in isolation