How Does a Parent's Absence Affect Teens?

The teenage years can be difficult enough, without compounding them with other issues, such as parental absence. A parent can be absent from the life of a teenager for numerous reasons, including divorce, abandonment, illness, work or imprisonment. Twenty-four percent of children live without their biological fathers, reveals U.S. Census Bureau data released in 2011 1. The absence of one or both parents could gravely affect teenagers, given that they are undergoing emotional, physical and mental development.

Juvenile Incarceration

Teens whose fathers are absent are more likely to end up in jail for various crimes than youth with both parents present. The probability of ending up in jail is even higher for those teens who have never lived with their fathers in the same house. In addition, frequent encounters and communications between teenagers and their absent fathers reduced cases of adolescent delinquency, according to a 2007 study by Rebekah Coley and Bethany Medeiros, published in the journal Child Development.


A parent’s absence can cause a child to live without receiving life’s basic needs, such as food, shelter and clothing. According to the Census Bureau, 44 percent of children whose fathers were absent were living in poverty in 2011 1. In comparison, only 12 percent of children who had both parents present lived in poverty in the same year. Teens living in poor families can engage in activities such as prostitution and illegal drug dealing to get money. Such activities increase their susceptibility to sexually transmitted infections, teen pregnancy and drug abuse.

Child Abuse

According to the website of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, a parent’s absence can put teenagers at risk of mistreatment at the hands of a non-biological parent or a single biological parent. Children whose fathers are absent are also more likely to face abuse and neglect. Given such results, the child protective services department is justified to be concerned about teenagers living with non-biological fathers.


Teenagers are more likely to struggle with weight issues if they live without their parents. According to a study published in Pediatrics and entitled, "Preschooler Obesity and Parenting Styles of Mothers and Fathers: Australian National Population Study," which investigated the relationship between parenting style and behaviors and children’s body mass index status, the behavior of a parent, particularly a father, increases the risk of obesity 4. Fathers who are more involved in the life of a child contributed to a lower risk of obesity, while permissive and absent fathers increased risks of obesity.

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