Decisions and rules at home

  • Until you are 18, your parents should take care of you and bring you up
  • They have to make big decisions about what happens to you – they may also make rules about how you all live together at home
  • Your rights will protect you if your parents don’t treat you properly as you are growing up

Your rights as a child are to be brought up by your family – and no one should stop this unless you are being treated cruelly or neglected, or there is another reason why you can’t be brought up by your parents. Your parents have the responsibility for working out the rules about how you live together on your home. Even if you don’t live with your parents, there will be rules where you live. The rules are usually there to make sure everyone can live together safely in the same place. These may be strict rules which you can’t change, or they may be more relaxed. It will depend on the person or people you live with.

You make decisions about what happens in your life all the time, but lots of the ‘big decisions’ about what happens to you as a child or young person are made by the people with parental responsibility for you. As you get older you will probably be more interested in the ‘rules’ your parents set, and the decisions that affect you. You will also have more opportunity to be involved in the ‘big’ decision making, either because your parents or the people with parental responsibility involve you, or because you are given the right to make a particular decision.

Every household has different way of working, but there is usually an understanding about what kind of behaviour is and isn’t acceptable, and what everyone is expected to do.  These might be specific things like keeping your room tidy or doing the washing up. If you don’t live with your parents for some reason, there will be rules where you do live  - even if they aren’t called ‘rules’.

As long as ‘the rules’ don’t involve you being treated cruelly or neglected or harmed in some other way, it’s up to the people looking after you what the rules are. In many families, foster families or children’s homes, the people looking after you will talk to you about the rules and involve you in discussions about changing the rules.
Again, it’s up to the people looking after you what might happen if you break the rules although some people may discuss this with you, especially as you get older. Your parents are allowed to discipline you as long as it’s not cruel or means you are neglected or harmed.

You have the right to be protected from violence. The UNCRC says that no one should hurt or harm you, including your parents.

There is a law in England and Wales that says that it is against the law for someone to hit – or ‘assault’ - someone else. The same law says that if your parents hit you and it is a 'reasonable punishment' then it is not an ‘assault’.

The ‘defence of reasonable chastisement’, as it is known, only applies if the hit (or ‘smack’ as it is often called) doesn’t leave a mark on you. It doesn’t apply if someone hits you with their fist or with something else like a belt, or a cane.

The defence of ‘reasonable chastisement’ means that there is a difference between how the law treats adults and children – there is no defence of reasonable punishment available if an adult hits another adult.

Wales has recognised this difference and has changed the law. In January 2020, the National Assembly for Wales passed a new law called the Children (Abolition of Reasonable Punishment)(Wales) Act. This law means that adults in Wales won’t be able to use the defence of reasonable punishment any more if they assault a child.

This new law in Wales should apply from 2022.

A change in the law in Wales means that parents won’t be able to hit (or ‘smack’) their children for any reason. This change has been agreed by the National Assembly of Wales/Senedd but it hasn’t come into effect yet and probably won’t until 2022. Until then, the law still allows parents to hit their children if it’s ‘reasonable punishment’ (also called ‘reasonable chastisement’).

‘Reasonable punishment’ means something that doesn’t leave a mark on you, and it can only be done with a hand. If someone hits you with a belt or a stick or something else, it can’t be ‘reasonable punishment’.

If your parents smack you harder than what is allowed as ‘reasonable punishment’ or if they hit you or hurt you in some other way, they will have broken the law. You have the right to be cared for without violence or abuse, so you should tell someone if you are being hurt by your parents.

Find out more about what happens if your parents are hurting you.

The only other person who could smack you apart from your parents or a legal guardian will be a person who is looking after you, and who has been given permission to smack you by your parents. This might be a grandparent or a private child minder. Your teacher can’t smack you.

No one likes to be told that they have done something wrong, or to have the decisions they have made questioned. Your parents (or the people you live with) should challenge you – it’s part of their responsibility to bring you up and to care for you. However, if they do this in a way that is cruel or unkind, they could be breaking the law, especially if they always talk to you like this, even if they aren’t telling you off. If you are worried about the way the people who are looking after you talk to you, talk to another adult that you trust about it.

Although it seems that your parents make all the decisions, you will make decisions about your life all the time. Decisions about who to be friends with, decisions about what to watch on TV or what you listen to. Decisions to be kind or unkind and decisions about respecting the rules. It’s true, though, that until you are 18, the big decisions are really made by your parents or other adults, including social workers and the courts depending on your situation.

As you get older, you will be more aware of the decisions that are being taken about you and what they mean for you. You will start to be able to make more decisions yourself and will want to be able to be involved in decision making.

Just because you don’t live with your parents doesn’t mean they won’t be involved in making decisions about you. It will depend on why you aren’t living with your parents, and whether someone else has parental responsibility for you as well as your parents.

All mothers and most fathers in Wales have legal rights and responsibilities to look after their children. This is known as ‘parental responsibility’. More than one person can have parental responsibility for you.

Your mum always has parental responsibility for you. Your dad has responsibility for you, as well as your mum, if he was married to your mum when you were born, or if he is included on your birth certificate. Your dad can also apply for parental responsibility. Your mum can agree that he has parental responsibility, or a court can order it. If your parents are in a civil partnership, or in a same-sex marriage, they can both have parental responsibility.

Other people that can have parental responsibility with your parents a step parent, a guardian or the local authority.

Your mother will always have parental responsibility for you until you reach 18 unless she dies or you are adopted.

The person or people with parental responsibility must look after you and keep you safe. They must make sure you get an education, make decisions about any medical treatment you might need, they must give you a name (and agree to you changing your name), and must look after your property. This will usually be your parents but if your parents can’t make decisions about you for some reason, then someone else with parental responsibility can make these decisions.

As you develop and grow up, you will have views about what happens to you. This could include which school you go to, whether you follow a religion (or not) or about medical treatment. It could also include decisions about who you live with if your parents split up. Different procedures can apply depending on the type of decision that is being made. Your parents may start to include you in decisions as you get older. If they don’t do this, you could ask them if you can be more involved in decision making. If it’s hard to get them to listen, you could think about asking another adult to help you talk to your parents about this.