The Scope and Limits of Parental Rights

Parents are the main caregivers who are responsible for the safety and well-being of their children. Their parental duties include giving care and shelter, providing children with food and adequate living conditions, and giving them the necessary degree of freedom and independence. Parents also have several basic rights they may exercise, such as the right to obtain physical custody; the right to legal custody, which involves decisions about a child’s education, upbringing, medical care, and religious affiliation; as well as the right to pass property to a child (Otterstrom, 2017). However, one needs to note that there are limits to parental rights designed to protect child’s interests. In this essay, I aim to explore the scope and limits of parental right and understand when it is permissible to intervene and reduce parental involvement.

From the legal perspective, the term parental rights refers to the parents’ right to make decisions regarding their children’s medical care, education, and religion, among other things (Otterstrom, 2017). These rights are exercised automatically when parents are married. If they are separated or divorced, they need to obtain a custody and visitation order to be able to make important decisions regarding their child’s upbringing and life. Sometimes, especially in the cases of disputed paternity, a parent should appeal to the court to receive his parental rights (Otterstrom, 2017). In other words, only parents having legal permission to care for the child can exercise their parental rights, but this rule is not always respected. In many families, close relatives or boyfriends/girlfriends are involved in the childcare, which leaves space for abuse and maltreatment.

When parents or caregivers abuse their rights and cannot care adequately for their children, it is believed to be permissible to intervene to protect a child’s health and well-being. These cases involve physical and sexual abuse, maltreatment, exploitation, or failure to provide the needed care and attention. Moreover, there is a consensus that parental rights should be limited when they refuse to consent to life-saving medical treatment (Birchley, 2010). Although the interests of parents and children are difficult to separate, it is extremely important for authorities to intervene when parents cannot make reasonable decisions and subject their children to health risks. Parental rights should also be limited when they do not allow their children to express their views during important judicial and administrative proceedings that concern them directly.

Few would argue that parents’ rights should not be infringed. There are many cases when parents’ beliefs and misconceptions affect the child negatively, so it is permissible to intervene. For example, some parents may refuse to give proper treatment to their children because they think that their god and faith will help them overcome the disease. There are also some insular religious communities that control children’s education, which results in young people not receiving adequate knowledge (Greenawalt, 2006). Therefore, state and federal laws regarding parental rights are based on the principle of best interests of the child to prevent these kinds of maltreatment and abuse.

To summarize the argument provided above, I would like to note that parental rights have the defined scope and limitations. Parents have the right to make decisions concerning their children’s healthcare, education, religion, etc., as well as make everyday decisions regarding their upbringing. However, there are cases when parental rights should be limited to protect children’s best interests. These include child abuse, maltreatment, exploitation, physical and psychological pressure, refusal to give consent to treatment, and others. When the child’s well-being and health are compromised, it is the state’s responsibility to intervene and limit parents’ influence.



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Birchley, G. (2010). What limits, if any, should be placed on a parent’s right to consent and/or refuse to consent to medical treatment for their child? Nurs Philos., 11(4), 280-5. doi:10.1111/j.1466-769X.2010.00456.x.

Greenawalt, K. (2006). Religion and the constitution. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.

Otterstrom, K. (2017). The legal rights and responsibilities of a parent. Retrieved from

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