Posted in On Writing, Reality in Fiction, Useful Sites

Reality in Fiction: Absent Parents

There are an untold number of stories on the internet where teenagers have absent parents. While this can give the writer of the story more leeway into what their young characters can do, it is also very unrealistic.

This is not to say that there are no parents out there who leave their children alone for long periods of time. Nor am I saying that there are no parents who care as little for their children as they do for a stranger. What I am saying is that these scenarios are not the norm and constitute bad parenting.

If parents leave their under-aged children alone, there must be a reason. For instance, the parent may work away from home or during the evenings. Single parents may need to work several jobs. Other parents may be neglectful because they never wanted kids or they want to party.

Regardless of the reason for the under-aged children being left alone, there are consequences.

One of the more major consequences is that social or family services may take the children away from the home. Parents will then need to complete a list of requirements before they are reunited with the children. Examples of some requirements are parenting classes, drug rehabilitation, supervised visits, and moving house.

Another consequence may be that the child acts out. The child may cut school or get in fights. They may also experiment with drugs or sex. The child is trying to see how far they can push their boundaries before someone pushes back. Unfortunately, there is no one to push back and the behaviour spirals out of control.

However, the opposite may also be true. The child tries to get their parents’ attention through excelling. They spend all of their time studying or practicing which leaves no time for being a child. These children are very reliable but have little to no social life because all of their energy is being put toward their excellence.

Regardless of how they act outside of the family unit, the child will more than likely confront their parents about their absence. The parents and child will never appear to get along. The arguments may turn into screaming matches and, depending on the reason for the neglect, may turn physically abusive.

The last major consequence I will mention is that the child may attempt to leave the family. This can be done in several ways.

Emancipated minors are under-aged children who have gone through the legal system to divorce from their parents. Normally children who have gone through this process are 16 or 17 and have had an abusive home life during their childhood. These teenagers should have a guardian but if they do not, they normally have a place to stay. Emancipated minors may have to pay their own bills through child-support payments from their parents or through their own job. Becoming an emancipated minor is not a small thing and may leave the child with emotional distress. This should only be done in cases where the child has no other viable option.

The child may run away from home. Most children who choose this option feel that life in the streets is better than life at home. This is not an option to take lightly. Sleeping rough is not fun as the nights can be cold and shelter can be difficult to find. Food can be scarce for street kids which means they will take what they can get; this sometimes means embracing freeganism. Sleeping rough is not easy nor pleasant and there is an unfortunate number of children who purposely choose this option.

It is easy to tell that there are many things to consider when it comes to absent parents. If you feel your young character’s parents must be out of the picture ask yourself these questions:

  • Why are the parents absent?
  • How long has my character been alone?
  • Has anyone noticed that my character’s parents are absent?
  • Who looks after the bills? Food? Shelter?
  • Is there anyone who looks out for my character?
  • Is there anyone who would notice if my character went missing?

There are many more things to be considered when writing a young character without a parent or guardian present in their lives. I barely touched the surface of all the information available. If you would like more information, check out the following websites:

Street Kids/Teen Shelters

Emancipation of Minors

Abusive/Neglectful Parents

Social/Family Services


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2 thoughts on “Reality in Fiction: Absent Parents

  1. Although I agree with many of your points, I think we need to distinguish between fiction and reality. In order to have a satisfying story, the protagonist has to be the one making decisions. In the case of young people, that most often means the parents must be absent, or the parents will be making the decisions instead of the main character.

    In some of the real life scenarios, it’s possible that young people who run away, for example, have not had the actual experience of living on the street and don’t have a realistic understanding of what it entails. So it’s easy to say “anything is better than this” and run off.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Those are very good points. I understand that the parents in young literature need to play a minor part so that the protagonist can fully play theirs. However, I have read far too many stories lately where the lack of parents negatively affected the story. I have also read beautifully written stories where I forgot there was such a thing as adults. To me it really depends on the story and how well it is written.

      As for runaways, I completely agree with your point. Without having met someone who has lived the streets or having lived on the streets, it can be very difficult to imagine how hard it is. Though I will always keep a prayer for those who think “anything is better than this”.



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