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Permissive, Overbearing Parenting Is Connected to Hikikomori

There is a parenting style that works for hikikomori.

Key points

  • Parenting influences an individual’s ability to actualize and feel self-confident.
  • Effective parenting has clear communication, boundaries, and consistent rules and reinforcements.
  • Interventions should include behavioral approaches and changes to the home environment.

The media, and columnists in particular, often criticize the roles of teachers, healthcare professionals, and parents in some way. After all, what else are they going to do? Sure, all these areas play some part in our development, and while it may be helpful to debate the state of things, one would hope that the readers (including you) would add a pinch of salt and digest slowly what’s said. With that in mind, consider that parenting does play a role in an individual’s ability to self-actualize and transition to adulthood with self-confidence. It’s not the only role; a myriad of other factors — genetic predispositions, social circles, technology, and access to services — count, too.

Nevertheless, a recent study in the Clinical Child and Family Psychology Review identified the role of parenting as a key environmental element in the presentation of those with Extreme Social Withdrawal (ESW) and its less extreme variants of Not Employed in Education or Training, Adultolescence, etc. “All in all,” it reported, “it can be concluded that adverse family processes seem to play a significant role in the development and maintenance of ESW” (Muris & Ollendick, 2023, 468).

These processes involved parents who had “some kind of psychopathology” and had parenting styles “characterized by less communication and cohesion,” which led to children being “subjected to detrimental rearing practices” (Muris & Ollendick, 2023, 468). Within this realm, individuals had parents who displayed some combination of being overbearing (helicoptering) and/or overly indulgent, which includes the sort of permissive parenting bereft of rules, structure, expectations, and consequences.

Interestingly, this shows up not only in the clinical research but also in the Reddit feeds and anime watched by the self-identifying hikikomori. Not all permissive parenting leads to a delayed transition to adulthood, but all hikikomori have this sort of parent. The findings of this study came as no surprise to me. I have worked in residential treatment centers, both with adolescents and adults as well as in outpatient, and all of my patients presenting with extreme social withdrawal and anxiety around self-actualization come from parents like the ones I’ve just outlined. Not mentioned in the article, is the fact that most folks with this presentation come from wealthy families, and the pressure to maintain status-quo can lead to a big drop in an individual’s standard of living, hindering the motivation to step outside of a plush comfort zone.

Stop for a second to think about it: if someone hovers over you all your life and does not let you try things and fail and figure it out for yourself, would you sense that you’re capable of solving your problems or taking risks? Perhaps the parents are ambivalent about their child’s transition to independence because they’re not ready to let go, or the child is avoiding a drop in living standards. Add on top of that a technological landscape that favors social isolation via dopaminergic rewards, school, and healthcare systems that err on the side of coddling lest they get canceled, and one gets the makings of a cycle. To break that cycle we have to address the parenting, for that’s where it lives, literally.

To wit, I have yet to treat a patient with this presentation who has parents who clearly communicated their expectations, rules, and boundaries and reinforced that stuff with positivity, compassion, and meaningful rewards and consequences. None of these patients had chores or summer jobs, nor was there an expectation of it. Please notice that I excluded other presentations here. Effective parenting isn’t a guarantee against mental illness; thought disorders, neurocognitive disorders, trauma, death anxieties, and grief: there are a million ways things can go for us in this world. But parenting definitely plays into those with ESW and a delayed transition to adulthood.

Peter Herrmann / usplash
Source: Peter Herrmann / usplash

The typical refrain from parents when this is broached is that they struggle to practice restraint because it’s too difficult to play that role — they don’t want to be the bad guy. But that’s their job. Parenting is very difficult for this reason and all the more reason our society should provide better support for it. Until then, the best way for a parent to help a child with ESW or a delayed transition to adulthood is to take part in their own behavioral therapy as well as Parent Effectiveness Training. Parent Effectiveness Training is a program that takes 24 hours to complete and involves improving communication, and setting clear boundaries, rules, and expectations, coupled with meaningful reinforcers (aka, rewards and consequences). Behavioral therapy will help address the discomfort a parent has in implementing rules and structure. Plus, the child should be doing a behavioral approach, too, like Acceptance and Commitment Therapy, which will confront the experiential avoidance that keeps them from self-actualizing.

It can be said that the job of a parent is to raise an adult. For those parents who want nothing more than to be a friend to their child, consider patience; that type of relationship will blossom once the child is out of your house and into their own. As Mark Twain noted: “When I was a boy of 14, my father was so ignorant I could hardly stand to have the old man around. But when I got to be 21, I was astonished at how much the old man had learned in seven years.”


California Evidence-Based Clearing House for Child Welfare. (n.d.). CEBC » Topic › Parent Training Programs Behavior Problems. The California Evidence-Based Clearinghouse for Child Welfare. Retrieved April 22, 2024, from…

Muris, P., & Ollendick, T. H. (2023, January 18). Contemporary Hermits: A Developmental Psychopathology Account of Extreme Social Withdrawal (Hikikomori) in Young People. Clinical Child and Family Psychology Review, 26, 459-481.

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