Solitary Journeys: How parental absence affects teens’ emotional maturity

MP-KNN teamThe Changing YouthLeave a Comment

Lonely Walk | Photo via Splitshire

Our current society has seen enormous shifts in the structure of the family. Before, we used to have a nuclear family, which is composed of a father, a mother and their children, and an extended family that includes other relatives. Recent decades have presented us with new family structures, however, such as a single-parent family, a same sex parents family, and a family with absent parents.

More recently, we have seen the rise in the numbers of youth growing with a single parent. The opportunity to work overseas, spouse estrangement and death of a parent are the primary causes of why increasing numbers of youth are facing the challenges of growing with only one parent to guide them. While it is regrettable that many children are growing with just one parent to nurture and support them, there are even less fortunate ones who are growing without the love and guidance of both parents.

My two colleagues and I aimed to explore the journey taken alone by young people towards emotional maturity. Our subjects were adolescents growing apart from their biological parents, and currently residing under the care of guardians.

Every one of us can agree that the absence of one or both parents results in a multitude of difficulties and struggles for the growing children. In addition, Sunil Kumar in 2014 emphasized the connection between an adolescent’s emotional maturity and family relationship. Being deprived of the guidance and support that parents provide certainly has consequences to the growing adolescent.

Our study population is composed of 5 teenagers aged 14-19 who have been living at least 1 year without their biological parents.

The first participant is a 14-year-old male whose parents are attending to their business in another town, forcing him to live under the care of his paternal grandmother. The second is a 15-year-old who was forced at a very young age to sell street food after his mother left him to her best friend; he never met his father. The third case is a 17-year-old living with her older sisters after their father abandoned them and their mother decided to work in Hong Kong. The fourth is an 18-year-old who is studying and at the same time taking care of her 4 younger siblings. The last is a 19-year-old who, at the age of 2, lost her father and at the age of 6, her mother. She and her older brother have been living under the custody of their maternal aunt.

Close observations were performed to gather evidence measuring the emotional maturity of the subjects. It took a month-long period of close encounters, in-house observation and interviews with them, their guardians and their peers.


On the Causes of Parental Absence
  • Parental absence is caused by several reasons. These include migration or working in a distant place, parental separation and parental death.
  • Parental separation is usually decided between couples without their children being able to express their sentiments and views on the issue.
  • Death, obviously, cannot be helped and is the most inevitable among the causes of parental absence. It is important to note, though, that among the respondents, the one whose parents were both dead was the one who exhibited the most stable character.
On the Effects of Parental Absence on the Personality and Values Formation of Adolescents

Parental absence has different effects on the personality development of teenagers. Generally, it positively impacts them by instilling responsibility and independence. On the other hand, its adverse effects include anxiety, insecurity and the tendency to pick-up negative behaviors easily.

The teenagers interviewed unanimously believed that they would have not picked up a certain negative behavior if their parents were with them.

The adolescents observed were either professed introverts who wanted to keep to themselves or too eager to make friends with everyone, making them seem polar opposites.

Their personality and character development are stunted. Values are not filtered before they are absorbed. Achievements are left unappreciated. Conflicts are ignored instead of confronted. The character of absent-parent teenagers is compromised.

Level of Emotional Maturity

We adapted the indicators of an emotionally mature individual proposed by Dr. Jerome Murray. Using Murray’s indicators of emotional maturity as a guide, the following were observed:

  • The capacity to facilitate easy flow of love and affection was evident in the respondents’ relationships with friends. However, emotional detachment from their guardians/foster parents was also observed.
  • Most showed enthusiasm in utilizing “whatever cards they were dealt with” to thrive in life. Nevertheless, all cases admitted to having episodes of contemplation on “what-could-have-been” if their parents were present.
  • On having a hands-on experience of life, the respondents intimated a feeling of being forced by their circumstances to learn a lesson in life rather than through self-initiated discovery.
  • Insecurities were observed among the respondents. The cases favored ignoring outright indifference towards what other people would say about them instead of using these comments as points of reference for self-improvements: a sign of inability to take criticism positively.
  • Respondents exhibited a consistently hopeful attitude. All cases could see a ‘brighter’ future ahead of them and reported working hard to achieve their goals in life.
  • The interest to give as to receive had to be taught by their guardians. Respondents seemed more focused on what they were not receiving. The sharing of time and effort felt like a “sacrifice” or something done out of a sense of obligation rather than as a source of pleasure.
  • The inability to learn from experience was evident in the way that the respondents adapted themselves to their situations. Respondents, however, also reported multiple instances of failed decisions and having to seek counsel from others in resolving problems.
  • On handling hostility constructively, only one among the respondents expressed eagerness in seeking reconciliation after a disagreement or dispute. The others would resort to apathy in finding an agreeable resolution to solving personal conflicts.
  • On being open-minded, the respondents admitted to being hesitant in accepting changes. They communicated feelings of unease in being “pulled out of their comfort zones.”

With this study, we hope that everybody can find enlightenment and, to a greater extent, shift their perspectives towards people, especially adolescents, who are threading the path towards emotional maturity, and perhaps be of great help in alleviating their sufferings.

The respondents’ messages for youths in similar situations:

From the 19-year-old whose parents are both deceased:

Having no parents is not a reason for you to waste your life. Use this situation as an opportunity to excel, to show that you can be successful.

From the 18-year-old whose parents are working abroad:

Follow your guardians. Do your responsibility. Always understand your situation because at the end of the day, your parents are just working for their family.

From the 17-year-old living with siblings:

Noon man, nagalit ako sa tatay ko, pero nawala na kasi tanggap ko na. Tanggapin n’yo ‘yong sitwasyon n’yo. Tapos, gawin n’yo ‘yong mga bagay na makakapagpasaya sa pamilya niyo o kung kanino man kayo naroroon ngayon. Palagi parin dapat na masaya.

From the 15-year-old who was left by his mother and abandoned by his father:

Makikisama kayo sa mga taong nag-aalaga sa inyo. Gawin niyo ‘yon para matuwa sila. ‘Wag naman kayo magagalit sa mga magulang ninyo. Mabuhay [kayo] kahit gan’to [‘yong sitwasyon].

From the 14-year-old whose parents had to leave for business:

Di naman kasi maipagpapalit ang pagmamahal ng mga magulang. Ang mahalaga, ginagawa nila ‘yon para sa amin. ‘Wag nalang [kayo] papaapekto.

With this study, we hope that everybody can find enlightenment and, to a greater extent, shift their perspectives towards people, especially adolescents. Adolescents are always on the path towards emotional maturity, and the information we have gathered can perhaps help alleviate their suffering.

Rebellious, irresponsible and troublesome individuals are some of the existing stereotypes among adolescents who are growing with absent parents. Through this study, we hope to quash these pessimistic labels and open a door to new perspectives about teenagers and their unfortunate circumstances. Adolescents with absent parents are capable of achieving great things for themselves despite their situation. They can become more responsible members of their families because they are forced to, in a sense, “grow faster.”

This study can also build awareness among parents. The knowledge of how adolescents struggle because of their absence may be helpful in coming up with a decision to stay or leave. Additionally, in decision-making, children’s opinions should be heard.

When parents have justifiable reasons for letting their children thrive without their guidance, supervision and physical presence, they must take steps to establish a line of communication. The continued effort to maintain a link with their children can make a great difference.

It is important that absent-parent adolescents should also make the effort to build and maintain constant connection with their parents. If communication is impossible, an honest and open relationship with their guardians may prove helpful in advancing towards emotional maturity. A mature companion may be helpful in understanding and conquering the complexities of life.

We dedicate this study to all of you: parents, adolescents, children and the general public. We hope our work can help all of us build better lives for adolescents and families everywhere.


Based on a research study co-authored with John Robert Rodriguez and Mary Jane Clemente

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