Your rights as a parent
Rights and responsibilities are important - we all have them.
For parents, there is no one law that sets out all the rights and duties you have in relation to bringing up your children.
Some of the laws dealing with your responsibilities include:
- Education Act
- Family Law Act
- Care and Protection of Children Act.
These laws mostly let you bring up your children in the way that you would like, without interference and according to your values and beliefs.
This means that you have the right and responsibility to make decisions about religion, schooling, discipline, medical treatment and where your child lives.
These decisions will not be interfered with unless your child’s safety and wellbeing are at risk.
Your duties as a parent
As a parent, you have a duty to:
- protect your child from harm
- provide your child with food, clothing and a place to live
- financially support your child
- provide safety, supervision and control
- provide medical care
- provide an education.
It’s important that children understand you have responsibilities as their parent.
Setting boundaries for their safety is your responsibility and a part of caring for them.
A child in the Northern Territory (NT) is a person under 18 years.
When children challenge
Children’s rights include the right to:
- be safe
- be educated
- have medical care
- be protected against cruelty and abuse.
Sometimes when a child or teenager talks about their rights, it can be more about wanting to get their own way, or testing limits.
They may have heard about rights at school, in the media, from their friends or in class discussions about human rights.
Sometimes they can test out these words when they are upset, or not getting what they want.
There are a few things to think about:
- children wanting their own way or testing limits is not about rights
- as a parent you have the right to set reasonable limits
- it’s important to stay strong when children challenge you in your authority to set limits for their wellbeing
- for young people, challenging their parents is a normal part of growing up
- parents need to relax their control as children mature in order to help them prepare for adulthood
- you can help your child learn how to negotiate and take responsibility for their decisions
- when your children challenge you, it is important to know why they are doing so, what your responsibilities are as a parent, and how you can deal with the situation.
What you might feel
Young people can sometimes be very persistent and demanding about their rights and parents can feel worn down when they hear comments like ‘It’s my right ... and you can’t stop me’.
Parents may be upset and commonly feel:
- angry that there’s even been a discussion about children’s rights
- that their authority has been threatened
- they have no control and are powerless
- that organisations or agencies are on their child’s side and not interested in their views
- unsure where they stand because they don’t know if what their child is saying is right or wrong.
These feelings may be even stronger if you are struggling with other issues or stresses at the same time.
What you can do
Conflict between parents and children can be over things such as children wanting more freedom, wanting to go out at night or stay out late.
It can be about their friends, sexual relationships, their use of alcohol or drugs or clashes as children develop their own points of view.
There are lots of ways to handle conflict. Read below for some things that might help.
Take the opportunity to build a healthy relationship
Sometimes you might decide that the issue is not important enough to argue about, and that your relationship with your child is more important.
However, you might also decide to use the issue to practice expressing different points of view.
Having a relationship where children can do this without being scared is a good and healthy one, and helps children develop skills for life.
When there is conflict you might feel upset or angry.
Take a deep breath and calm down before you react.
Make a time to talk about it with your child later, when you are not feeling upset or angry, or don’t have other pressures on you.
When the time’s right, talk with your child
Remember to make the time to talk.
The aim is to be able to have a conversation where you and your child can equally and seriously share ideas and views without emotions taking over.
Show interest in what your child is saying even if you strongly disagree.
Make an agreement
Agree that each person can have a say without being interrupted.
This means you can both feel that you are being heard and taken seriously, and you are more likely to be open to ideas and solutions.
Don’t interrupt or ‘lecture’ your child - it can stop them wanting to listen and get in the way of good communication.
Find out how and where your child got the information
It can help to know how your child got information or formed their view.
For example, have they seen something on TV? Has there been a class discussion about human rights?
Decide if you can let the issue go
Be clear in your own mind about how important the issue really is.
Will your child be harmed if they do or have what they want?
Do they just want to test the limits with this argument to show independence - a normal part of growing up?
Is your own frustration and determination to be ‘right’ making the situation worse?
Parents can feel that if they ‘give in’ they have lost some control.
Weigh up all the information and be prepared to ‘let go’ on matters that are not so important and remain firm on those that really count.
Try to reach a shared agreement.
If there is violence
Sometimes angry feelings can become violent actions.
This is not OK either from parents or the young person and not a helpful way to deal with the issues.
Violence can be physical acts or verbal threats or name-calling. Call the police if there is immediate danger.
When things are calmer, seek support to sort out issues and reduce the tension.
Managing conflict is a skill everyone needs to learn and practice, but sometimes it helps to have an independent person do this with you.
It can stop the situation from getting worse.
You can get more information and support regarding your rights and responsibilities as a parent on the following pages:
- counselling and relationships - Lifeline, Mensline, Parentline, Relationships Australia
- legal services - Family Relationships Online.
This information was adapted from the Parent Easy Guide series © Parenting SA, Government of South Australia.
Last updated: 03 February 2020