By age 16, nearly 50 percent of teens will have seen their parents divorce, notes

Abandonment Issues in Teenagers

by Karen Hellesvig-Gaskell

Teenagers feel abandoned when they don't receive the psychological, emotional and physical attention from parents or caregivers that they need to survive and thrive. Being deserted or discarded can create a sense of shame because the parents' actions send the message that the teen is of little value. Abandonment can be intentional, stem from parental ignorance or result from major life changing events.


Teens who are regularly left unsupervised don't get their basic needs such as food or clothing met or who suffer from physical or sexual abuse are victims of physical abandonment. A teen who doesn't feel safe expressing her opinions out of fear she'll be shot down, scolded or dismissed is an example of emotional abandonment. A teen might feel abandoned if his parents divorce or if a parent dies. The death of a parent is the No. 1 cause of adolescent stress, explains, the official website of the American Academy of Pediatrics.

Consequences of Physical and Emotional Abandonment

Neglecting the physical health and wellness needs of a teen can potentially lead to malnutrition, serious health problems and a lifetime of poor self-esteem, according to the American Humane Association. Emotional problems such as depression, antisocial behavior and shaky self-image can result when a teen is physically abused. A teen who feels compelled to keep part of his personality under wraps has learned that making mistakes and showing feelings are unappealing and unacceptable attributes. Verbal assaults such as telling a teen he's useless or stupid because he got a C on test can wreak havoc on his self-esteem and make him feel unsupported and abandoned.

Abandonment Effects of Divorce and Death

Divorce turns a teen's world upside down. When one parent moves out of the home, the remaining custodial parent might be strained financially. Money problems can lead to longer work hours or getting a second job. A non-custodial parent who gradually gives up his visitation rights can leave a teen feeling abandoned. Only one in six children from divorced families see their father -- who is typically the non-custodial parent -- once a week or more, while two in five say they haven't seen their dad in a year, notes The death of a parent can cause a teen to feel bitter toward the deceased parent because as she sees it, the parent abandoned her.

Fuzzy Boundaries

Teen abandonment issues often are compounded by unclear boundaries. For example, a parent might have trouble truly seeing their teen as a separate individual, according to a June 2010 article at Unclear parent-child boundaries on top of abandonment issues can leave a teen feeling particularly inadequate at a time when he should be developing and polishing a positive sense of self-worth.

About the Author

Karen Hellesvig-Gaskell is a broadcast journalist who began writing professionally in 1980. Her writing focuses on parenting and health, and has appeared in “Spirituality & Health Magazine" and “Essential Wellness.” Hellesvig-Gaskell has worked with autistic children at the Fraser School in Minneapolis and as a child care assistant for toddlers and preschoolers at the International School of Minnesota, Eden Prairie.

Photo Credits

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