I guess my question is why is this even up for debate? Does anyone in the world question the cause-effect relationship between parental attentiveness and behavior? In some ways this is very obvious, but I think there are even more subtle things parents do (or, more accurately, don’t do) to encourage bad behavior. For my purposes, I’m going to broaden the definition of “neglect” to include simple things such as limit-setting (or, lack thereof). If parents want to see their kids grow up well-adjusted and with fewer behavioral issues, they are going to have to be parents-and not friends.
We can start with the obvious and work our way from there. When thinking of “neglect,” many would immediately think of a parent leaving a very small child (say, under six-years-old) unattended-especially for a long period of time. I would agree with this assertion and, further, agree that there is no question as to how this kind of neglect will affect the child’s behavior. If the child lives long enough, (s)he’s quickly going to learn that one’s own needs are more important than anyone else’s and to do whatever it takes to get those needs met. This could mean stealing, lying or leaving a loved one behind. Whatever it takes-that’s the message.
But, in the real world I see evidence of (what I would call) neglect every single day. You go to the gym and here are kids everywhere under foot. It begs the question, where are the parents? Why, they’re over there, of course, not paying one bit of attention to their precious angels. You go to a restaurant and Muffy and Biff Yuppie are both busy talking on their cell phones not even paying attention to each other, much less their children. So, the kids are running around the restaurant totally unsupervised. And here are Muffy and Biff looking oh-so-pleased with how their kids are turning out-aren’t they cute? Now, this may not be neglect like most people think of it, but I defy anyone to tell me that these are children who are not going to have behavior problems.
Yes, parents have to be with their children-to that there is no doubt. But, even moreso, parents have to actually parent their children. They have to tell their kids no. They have to help the children distinguish right from wrong. Otherwise, their kids are going to have the same kinds of behavior problems as kids who are neglected in the most traditional sense. Yes, parental neglect does, in fact, cause behavior problems in children. Is this a surprise to anyone?