Breaking Rules

  • There are rules everywhere, which are usually there to make life better for everyone even if they are annoying to you
  • Breaking a rule doesn’t mean you will be in trouble with the police, although if you have also broken the law, the police could well get involved.
  • You may be able to challenge a rule if it means it discriminates against you for some reason, or if it doesn’t make sense

There are rules everywhere. They are usually aimed at improving things for everyone, and to make sure that everyone is respected, even if it feels like you are being stopped from doing things that you want to do.

There are rules your parents set at home – things like how much TV you can watch and whether you have to keep your room tidy. There are rules at school about what to wear, and how to behave in school. There are rules about crossing the road. Shopkeepers might set rules about how many children can be in the shop at any time. Swimming pools have rules about how to behave when you’re in the water. Some rules aren’t even written down, either, and you’re just kind of expected to understand how you have to behave somewhere. Most of the rules we live with day to day aren’t ‘the law’. Although there might be a consequence for breaking a rule – being grounded if you watch too much TV, or being kept in at break if you talk in class at school – you probably won’t end up in trouble with the police.

If you do break rules, you should still be treated with respect – just because you have broken a rule doesn’t mean that you lose your rights.

Your parents, or your carers where you live, can set rules about your behaviour. Every family and household will do this differently. Your parents are responsible for bringing you up and helping you develop so that you can play your part in the world as an adult. If your parents can’t do this for some reason, then other people – may be foster carers or a special guardian, will have responsibility for this. As long as the rules, and the consequences for breaking the rules, don’t put you at risk or cause you harm, your parents can set rules and consequences that they think are appropriate. If you don’t agree with them, you can see if you can discuss it with them, or ask another adult to help you have this discussion.

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 punishment’ 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). 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.

You can read more about decisions and rules at home here.

Every school will have its own system of rules and discipline which says how teachers and other school staff will deal with you if you break the rules. Things like being disruptive in class, not wearing the right school uniform, not turning up to school on time and not doing work or homework could all mean you get into trouble. You should be dealt with according to the school rules. If you keep on breaking school rules, you may end up being excluded from school, either for a fixed period of time, or permanently. This doesn’t mean you can’t go to school any more, just that you won’t be able to go to the school that excluded you.

Your teachers are not allowed to smack you.

Click here to find out more about being in trouble at school.

If your behaviour has broken the law as well as breaking any school rules, your school may tell the police about what has happened. This could include if you have hurt someone at school or threatened to hurt them or sold drugs at school. As well as the police, school might contact the Youth Offending Team, social workers or other organisations that might need to be involved. Even if the school doesn’t tell the police, someone who has been hurt or threatened might tell the police. Find out more about this here.

Outside of home and school, you may find different rules with different consequences. If the rule relates to someone’s private property, then as long as the rule isn’t breaking the law (and there’s more about this in the section below ‘Can a rule break a law?’), that person is allowed to have the rule. An example might be a shop keeper who says he doesn’t want more than 2 children in his shop at a time.

Sometimes, you might find a rule that treats you unfairly. In some cases, this will also be breaking a law. A shopkeeper who makes a rule that only 2 children can be in his or her shop at the same time could be discriminating against children because of their age – but they are allowed to do this. On the other hand, a shop keeper who said nobody could go into the shop wearing a particular type of garment like a burka or a kippah could be discriminating against people because of their religion, and this would be breaking the law.

Some rules made by local councils and some other public organisations in Wales are called ‘byelaws’. These are rules which only apply in a particular area or place, and will have consequences which are more serious than just breaking ‘a rule’. If you break a byelaw you might have to pay a fine or a fixed penalty notice. There might be some other consequence which could include having your property taken away from you. Breaking some byelaws could mean you end up with a criminal record.

The best way to challenge a rule is to try and talk to the people who made the rule in the first place.

Challenging rules at home

As long as the rules at home don’t put you at risk or mean you get hurt, the best way to challenge rules at home is to talk to your parents. As you get older, the more likely you are to want to live life your own way, and not the way your parents want. Talking to your parents about why you don’t like the rules, and how you would like to change things, is probably the best place to start. If you have trouble talking to your parents, you might be able to explain your problems to another adult – may be a grandparent or an aunt or uncle, or a teacher – who could help you talk to your parents.

Challenging school rules

In Wales, most schools have a school council. If you think a school rule isn’t sensible or appropriate, or if you think it is unfair, you can raise it with the School Council. If a rule discriminates against you, or a group of pupils for a reason such as your race or religion or your gender, then the school will be breaking the law.

Challenging other rules

If a local council is thinking of introducing a rule using a byelaw, they must ask people who live in the area what they think. If you find out about the plans for the rule, you could take part in this by writing a letter or an email with your views to the council or the organisation that is introducing the byelaw.