When Your Parents Aren't Supportive:
Thriving in a household where parents don't seem to really care


THIS IS NOT A LEGAL DOCUMENT. This information is not written by a lawyer, a paralegal, or anyone associated in any way with a court, legal or government office.

What is a supportive parent? One who:

  • can say who each of their children's favorite band is, favorite movie or actor is, favorite book is, what their dreams for the future are, etc.
  • actively encourages their children to do well in school, and celebrates school successes
  • listens to their children talk about school and day-to-date activities
  • schedules regular one-on-one time with a child - walking around the block, over a meal, during a drive, etc. - so that conversations that need to happen regularly happen
  • does activities regularly with their children: watching a sporting event together, going to a museum or to a state park, going hiking together, playing catch in the back yard, paying some hoops, etc.
  • buys their children the basics they need for school, like books, paper, etc.
  • goes to watch their children in various activities - sports, a theater performance, a band, etc.
  • celebrates important milestones in their child's life: the first day of school, graduation from high school, the first game played, the first theater or choir or band performance, 16th birthday, etc.
  • takes LOTS of photos of their children, and looks at these photos together with their children
  • saves important documents to a child: report cards, certificates and trophies recognizing achievement, letters from grandparents, etc.
  • saves money, and helps their children work to create a savings account, for university or life after high school
  • talks with their children about the future
  • respects their children's values that might be different from their own (a child that has realized he or she would like to go to a different community of faith, or would like to be a vegetarian, etc.)

Even a supportive parent might not be able to buy the most fashionable tennis shoes, or a smart phone, or a car for their kids. They might sometimes have to shop at Goodwill for school clothes. They might require kids to do yard work or house work. They punish their children appropriately for not doing homework (taking away a smart phone, or video game privileges). They might not like their children's friends because of their negative behavior, and say so. They might have to say no to a request, because of the family budget, because of another priority, or because they feel the request is inappropriate. But such parents can still be there for their kids in heart and mind, and can still have a child's best interest at heart. There might be arguments, there might be tears, there might be moments where a child yells, "You don't understand me!" That's normal. But none of that is a sign of an unsupportive/neglectful parent.

Sadly, there are parents that aren't supportive. These parents aren't abusive, but they engage in behavior that doesn't give their children emotional stability or the kind of affection and support every child needs. Unsupportive parents might:

  • choose to buy a new car or another car, the top cable or satellite TV package, or the latest smart phone, instead of school supplies, or instead of saving for their child's university
  • spend large amounts of time money gambling instead of spending time with their children
  • choose to stay home and watch TV or play video games, or go out with their own friends, instead of going to their children's sporting events, music performances, help with homework, etc.
  • not listen to their children's accounts about being afraid of someone or something, or dismiss such talk as being alarmist ("He's just saying that because, really, he likes you" to a girl who expresses fear of a boy who is engaging in physical and verbal behavior targeted at her)
  • not schedule regular one-on-one time with a child - walking around the block, over a meal, during a drive, etc. - so that conversations that need to happen regularly happen
  • mock their children's tastes in clothes, music, social activities, etc.
  • mock their children's beliefs that are different from their own, or don't take them seriously (serving meals filled with meat in every dish to a child that has said he or she wants to be a vegetarian)
  • have no idea what their children's beliefs are (suggesting again and again a high school student try to get an internship in a coal company's office without knowing their child wrote editorials in the school paper against coal companies and in support of wind energy)
  • make disparaging remarks about their children doing well in school ("You think you are better than me?") or activities the child engages in ("Reading is for nerds" or "you will never get a scholarship, so why do you keep playing basketball?")
  • have no idea what their children's favorite band is, favorite movie is, favorite book is, etc.
  • have no idea what their children's dreams for the future are
  • rarely take photos of, or otherwise acknowledge, milestones in a child's life: the first day of school, graduation from high school, the first game played, the first theater or choir or band performance, 16th birthday, etc.
  • forgets birthdays altogether
This is different from behavior that is a threat to children by parents, such as:
  • Your parents have taken out loans and credit cards in your name, thereby ruining your credit and making you legally responsible for their debts
  • Your parents have taken money from you that you have earned or that has been given to you
  • Your parents have told you that you no longer may live with them
  • Your parents have told you that, for you to continue to live with them, you must engage in activities that go against your values or that would be profoundly degrading or humiliating
  • Conditions at your parents home are unsanitary or unsafe
  • Someone in your parents home has physically or emotionally abused you, or threatened such abuse
In these more severe cases, a child might want to consider legal emancipation, a legal process that gives a teenager who is under 18 legal independence from his or her parents or guardians - the same legal independence he or she would acquire upon an 18th birthday and moving out of the home. It is something that can be granted only through proper state legal processes and by a court judge. Emancipation laws vary from state to state. See A Teenager's Guide to Emancipation for more on this. Think very carefully before you start the emancipation process. It is a tremendous amount of financial, legal and personal responsibility to take on.

When living with unsupportive parents, you need to do more than just survive; you need to become supportive of yourself and create a more positive life for yourself. You need to exercise control over your own life, both to get through today and prepare for the future. Try to turn bitterness into energy to create the life you want, as much as possible, instead of complaining about your situation:

  • Give up any efforts to change your parents, and quit hoping they will change. Make the decision that they are the way they are and you cannot change them. Decide that you can and will change yourself.

  • Save as much money as possible. Make an appointment with a parent to go with you to a bank to open a savings account. Don't say something general, like, "Would you help me open a savings account?" That's to easy to say no to, through inaction. Instead, go to a bank yourself, on your own, get the info you need, and then say to a parent, "Could you go with me on this coming Saturday, at 10 a.m., to such-and-such bank and sign some papers so I can have a savings account?" Be specific about the date and time you want this to happen. Don't be confrontational, but be definite.

  • Get a job. You are never too young to make money. If working at a formal job, like a fast food place, is impossible because you have no transportation to get to your shifts or you are too young, then start your own business: walk dogs, pet sit, child sit, do yard work, etc. Make fliers offering your services and give them to all your neighbors.

  • Volunteer. There are numerous opportunities for teen volunteers, including leadership volunteering activities, and this not only keeps you busy, it introduces you to other people, including new friends and supportive adults, it provides you a way to explore various careers, it could lead to a scholarship, it teaches you skills you will use over a life time, etc.

  • Get involved in school activities. If there isn't a club that you want to join, look into creating one you would want to join if someone else had thought of it.

  • Accept all invitations from friends to spend a night over, to go to an event, etc.

  • If you are a person of faith, look into communities of faith that might fit your belief system. The Internet makes this super easy to do. If you are an Atheist or agnostic, there are lots of communities for such as well - they may go by names like secular humanists or ethical societies.

  • Make your own plans to go to events you want to go to, without your family. Don't let your family's disinterest keep you from going to an event you are really interested in. Don't go if your parents have specifically prohibited you from going, but otherwise, if you have your parents permission, make your own arrangements to attend sporting events, community events or other activities without your parents.

  • Take photos yourself. Ask friends to take photos of you on your 16th birthday, on opening night of a play you are in, of you volunteering somewhere, etc.

  • Take control of your life: clean a room every day (the bathroom is always a good choice), do your own laundry, mow the yard without being asked, never leave clothes on the floor, etc. Don't do it because you want acknowledgement - you probably aren't going to get it. Do it because you want to know how to do it before you move out some day.

  • If you need to start cooking for yourself to fit your own values, then do it. This will probably mean you have to go to the grocery and buy food for yourself, or go to the grocery with a parent and put things in the basket you want to eat. You have to eat what you buy - don't ever throw large amounts of food away (thereby wasting money).

  • Look around you for young people who are in your same situation, including your own siblings. If you suspect a friend isn't going to have parents at that opening game either, just like you, then buy a card for your friend congratulating him or her on this big event. If your siblings are just as deprived of parental support as you, then go to their sporting events and play performances when you can - even just a few times will make a HUGE different. Take photos of them at their milestones - important birthdays and events - and save these photos for them. Say the things to them that your parents should be saying:
      How did you do on your report card?
      How did you do on that test you were worried about?
      Who is your favorite teacher?
      Great job on that test!

  • If you crave hugs, and your parents don't hug, then hug your friends and siblings, and extended family that's into hugs. If you are freely emotional or super demonstrative, an your parents aren't (and even mock you for such), then save it for school, with friends who support you - and be as dramatic and emotional as you like there! Even if some people make fun of you for your laughs and tears and hugs, others will love you for it.

  • Celebrate yourself. Keep a journal and say at least once a week, "I am proud of myself because..." Write about good grades, about avoiding negative or destructive behavior, about standing up for your values even if you lost from friends over it, about something you learned, about something positive you said to someone to boost their outlook or recognize their achievement, etc. Read your journal when you need a boost.

  • If you need a break, a place to just sit and think, to read, to write, whatever, your local library, or any park, is a great place to do that. If there is a college or university nearby, go there and find public spaces, such as in the student union, where you can watch TV, study, work on your lap top, or even eat, away from your family. 

Other ideas:
    If you are a citizen of the USA or a legal permanent resident aliens here, look into AmeriCorps NCCC (National Civilian Community Corps), a full-time, team-based residential program for men and women age 18-24. AmeriCorps NCCC members receive a living allowance of approximately $4,000 for the 10 months of service (about $200 every two weeks before taxes), housing, meals, limited medical benefits, up to $400 a month for childcare and an education award upon successful completion of the program. Members are assigned to one of five campuses, located in Denver, Colorado; Sacramento, California; Perry Point, Maryland; Vicksburg, Mississippi; and Vinton, Iowa. The mission of AmeriCorps NCCC is to strengthen communities and develop leaders through direct, team-based national and community service. In partnership with non-profits (secular and faith-based), local municipalities, state governments, federal government, national or state parks, Indian Tribes and schools members complete service projects throughout the region they are assigned. Members serve in teams of eight to 12 and are assigned to projects throughout the region served by their campus. They are trained in CPR, first aid, public safety, and other skills before beginning their first service project. If you are accepted into the program, you could use this experience to possibly get into college later, or to seek employment with the references and skills you gain from this experience.

    Young people between 17 and 24 years old in the USA can serve a year in the CityYear program, as tutors, mentors and role models, helping children stay in school. To apply, you must be a USA citizen or legal permanent resident alien, and have a high school or diploma or GED, or be willing to earn a GED. A college degree or some college are great as well. You must be able to dedicate 10 months to full-time service and agree to a background or security check. Applicants may have served no more than three terms in another AmeriCorps, NCCC or VISTA program. Previous experiences with service, tutoring, mentoring and leadership help strengthen candidacy. If you are accepted into the program, you could use this experience to possibly get into college later, or to seek employment with the references and skills you gain from this experience.

If you are a gay teen, and your parents are not supportive - and even hostile - then visit It Gets Better web site. This will connect you with the resources you need while you are still living at home. It DOES get better!

If you are an Atheist teen, and your parents are not supportive - and even hostile - well... that's a challenge, because there's no "It Gets Better" project for Atheist teens, even though, indeed, it DOES get better! My favorite Atheist blogs are The Friendly Atheist and Your Atheist Muse. Read those blogs, follow their links, and you will find out you aren't alone, that Atheists are often super cool, happy people (like the guys on Mythbusters! Or Penn and Teller! Or me!), and that you have a LOT to look forward to once you are out of your parents' home!

Your situation won't improve overnight, and it will probably never become perfect while you are still living with your parents. It will take ongoing effort for you to keep your spirits up while still living at home and to create your own support network. You will have to constantly remind yourself that your parents are not going to change and you cannot hope that they will - you will find yourself falling back into this way of thinking repeatedly. But stick to your plan, stay strong, stay persistent, and you CAN do it - you can thrive in that unsupportive household and lay the groundwork to create a fantastic life for yourself! You DO have control over many things in your life, no matter how young you are! And someday, when you are out on your own, you can relish in hearing these words from extended family and friends: Wow; you are so different than your parents!

Also, thing about finances. This web page of information for teens regarding taxes, which includes a long list of links to other sites with information, is from a company that prepares taxes. It's one of the best curated lists anywhere of financial information for teens.

Also see

2010-2017 by Jayne Cravens, all rights reserved. No part of this material can be reproduced in print or in electronic form without express written permission by Jayne Cravens.


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