Law: Parent disciplining children: subject matter restrictions?

Since I’m on a roll in terms of posts involving children this week, I give you this, which I have been wondering about for a while. It isn’t material to my life right now, and the answer may vary depending on jurisdiction.

Parents with custody generally have the right to exercise reasonable discipline against their children for “offenses” defined by the parent, and generally, the child is not entitled to appeal chores (sweep the basement), dress codes (no daughter of mine is wearing that), curfews, or punishments (like being Grounded) to the police, Child Protective Services, or the courts unless the parent’s behavior in imposing such constitutes legally recognized child abuse or neglect.

I’m ignoring methods of punishment (e.g. spanking, grounding, no TV, no visiting friends, punitive curfew) and the severity of punishment (e.g. 5 spanks, 10 spanks, grounding for 1 week, grounding for 1 month, 9pm curfew, 6pm curfew) for the moment and concentrating on whether or not there are legally recognized subject matter restrictions on what types of rules parents can impose on their children. That is, another way to phrase this question is whether or not children have rights that are inalienable that a parent cannot “legislate” away in the same sense that people in the US have Constitutional rights that Congress cannot legislate away.

Hypothetical situation:

<ring ring ring>
Operator: “Hello, Child Welfare Services, how can I help you.”
Kid: “I’m grounded.”
Operator: “Oh dear, what happened?”
Kid: “Well, my dad is converting to the Baptist Church and he told me that I must too. I said that I was happy being Mormon, and he responded by telling me that I am grounded until I convert.”
Operator: “Oh my, it is illegal in this State to punish a child for refusing to engage in conduct that violates the child’s sincerely held religious beliefs unless such conduct is necessary for the child’s welfare. We’re sending CPS and Police to your home and if your father won’t back down, we’ll place you in a foster home where you can practice your religion freely, and refer your father to the District Attorney for possible prosecution for Child Abuse.”
Kid: “Ok. How soon will they be here?”

Is this (or anything related to subject matter of family rules) remotely possible?

At the very least, the authorities could draw a line where parents are encouraging or requiring illegal behavior. (Say, grounding the kid because they didn’t rob enough mini-marts last night or because they refuse to shoot up heroin with you.)

A lot depends on the jurisdiction, but parents are permitted to exercise reasonable discipline. their rights are pretty broad. Unlike the popular image in the media, courts and services prefer to keep children with parents, until their is clear evidence that the parents actions are causing the child unacceptable harm.

A parent who refuses to let a child watch any TV, and infractions are punished with a spanking, will not be a role model parent but s/he will not be in breach of any law nor will s/he be in anybrealistic danger of losing the child.

Do you only want to know the law in the US or also in other countries?

One of the reasons given that the US never signed/ accepted the UN children rights declaration was that this would be an infringement of parental rights (Another reason given was that this would forbid the death penalty against people who were minors when committing the act). And since the constitution doesn’t say anything about children, only about adults, I doubt there are any restrictions on what parents can do with their children.

Children in the US do not have the right of protection against bodily harm (they can be beaten); they do not have freedom of religious expression (their parents can convert the whole family to a church); they do not have right to go to school ( parents can homeschool without giving a reason or showing qualification), they do not have right to medical treatment (parents can deny medical treatment on religious grounds) … there isn’t much left in way of rights.

Since this is GQ, suffice it to say that each of those claims is a gross overstatement and essentially incorrect.

There was a case in the news in Ontario about 10 or 15 years ago… some fellow (from the USA) was charged because he spanked his child in public. He bent her over the car (she was around 7 IIRC) and paddled her butt so it hurt. He was eventually acquitted, I think the decision was that it was reasonable force. Lost in the hoopla over the pros and cons was the fact that this happened because she deliberately slammed her little brother’s hand in the car door. In that case, IMHO, spanking is a valid punishment.

Most parental physical discipline is subject to the limitation - it should not cause physical harm, it should be reasonable. Like most situations legal,“reasonable” depends on the situation, the lawyers, and the mood of the judge.

Can you elaborate on that? I know that children have a right to be educated, but I don’t think they do have a right to go to school if the parents decide to homeschool them. Equally, I don’t think they have a right to freedom of religious expression, in that the parents can coerce the expression of one religion while forbidding the expression of others. But I don’t think the case of religion is much different from any other society. “Bodily harm” and “medical care” are too broad to make a general statement. Parents cannot injure children or withhold lifesaving care, but can certainly spank or withhold vaccinations.

So, lets see:

children can be beaten by their parents: varies from state to state, but still legal in many places (and many Dopers have testified to it)

parents can convert their whole family to a church: many cases of this happen, but never once do children call CPS or are the parents brought to court afterwards. If you look at the high-profile media cases, parents can send their children to jesus-gay-camps and the courts don’t forbid it, although the treatment is proven to be worthless at best and harmful in most cases by real science.

parents can keep their children away from school, and the police won’t do anything; and parents don’t have to show any qualification when wanting to homeschool their children. They don’t even have to prove they are actually doing any schooling, or that they are meeting defined curricula. Again, it varies by state or county, but it’s still true for a lot of the US.

And parents can deny medical treatments for religious reasons. Again, it varies, and in some extreme cases, doctors may now be able to override the parents - but the basic procedure still is, that if a doctor wants to treat a minor, they need the parents permission.

Please give proof that these statements are factually incorrect? Because I read enough of these cases in the media to know that they exist. They may not be true for every state, but I didn’t claim that.

To add another one:
child labour. Children are “allowed” to workfrom the age of 12 on farms if it’s for the family, which results in children of illegal immigrants being exploited.

This is North Carolina, with heat of 30C and above, pesticides and snakes, and danger from the nicotine when harvesting tobacco.

Which is of course pure propaganda and sarcasm, because children who work 8 hrs. and more on a field at age 13 have no chance at all of fulfilling the american dream because they have no chance of going to school to get out of there. And as latinos, they have it doubly hard than a normal white kid.

Actually, it is. If German parents would convert to a religion that is considered a dangerous cult, then child services or courts would step in to protect the children.

Moreover at the age of 14, German children become of age regarding religion and can henceforth choose which, if any, religion they belong to. (In my school, “ethics” for all children who were neither catholic nor protestant, was after lunch, and therefore unpopular. So when kids started saying “When I’m 14, I can quit that stupid religion”, but when faced with the option of staying two hours longer to attend ethics instead - hardly anybody cared enough anymore.)

constanze, I’ll provide an anecdotal cite for working from the age of 12 for the family business, though it was a retail establishment and not a farm. Though I hated it, I don’t think it was exploitation (they did pay me minimum wage, and opened a bank account for me) nor that it did me any harm. And though I was technically the child of an illegal immigrant, that had nothing to do with it!

The idea that parents “do not have to prove they are actually doing any schooling,” on the other hand, is an extraordinary claim, and it would be nice if you could provide a citation, even one of those media stories. The oversight may be lax, but I’m not aware of any district where they don’t have to at least check in periodically.

ETA: I just saw the comment with regard to religion. That is a difference, it’s true, though more the ability to choose at 14 than the “dangerous cult” issue. Even in America, if the family’s religion were deemed to be damaging to the child, the authorities could intervene.

So one anecdote makes it all fine, then?

I’m waiting for all the Dopers who were beaten as children to come in and explain (as always) that “spanking is just discipline and doesn’t harm, I was spanked and suffered no problems”, then.

Just because your society hasn’t yet noticed the last developments (of +100 years) in child psychology, child-rearing and child pedagogy, doesn’t make it okay.

Check in what? There are not even curriculum standards state- or county wide for official schools, much less homeschooling. So even if somebody checks on little Susie, and she can’t read fluently at her age level, what happens then?

I only have the negative proof: that is there no story in the media where children where taken away from the parents or action taken because the home-schooling was sub-par. (of course, children are also not taken away for being beaten, as long as there is no lasting damage.) Or children are taken away at the drop of a hat so CPS can make money., which is a different issue.

Interesting, but this isn’t what I was driving at. It looks like this case was over the nature and severity of the punishment inflicted, not the reason it was inflicted. My OP was more along the lines of whether there are things related to child behavior that the parent cannot punish (whether by spanking, grounding, whatever) over because of the child’s civil rights or something.

Please don’t put words in my mouth. I didn’t say it was all fine. I was just trying to illustrate the range of possibilities. I don’t think, for instance, that keeping children out of school to pick fruit is “fine.”

“Check in” means “make contact with”. By that statement I mean “contact the relevant overseeing authority from the relevant school district.” There are too standards: the federal government, each state, and each district has standards. Whether those standards are used as goals, guidelines, or suggestions might vary, but to say they have no standards is factually incorrect.

As far as little Susie, I think that’s a larger problem than homeschooling. Many little Susies in the public schools can’t read at their age level, either, even once they’ve become quite big Susies. I’m not belittling the problem, but I can see why a district would worry about the thousands of public school students not reading at grade level ahead of the seventeen homeschool kids who are not reading at grade level.

A standard that’s used as suggestion and can therefore be ignored is not what I meant with standard. I meant a curriculum goal all children are required to meet in schools, so when a school in a poor neighborhood doesn’t have enough books or chairs for every kid, the money will be distributed from the big pool to make sure that every school meets minimum standards, starting with basics like desks, teachers, books, and onwards to what children are taught.

A simple suggestion, or the parents telling the authorities “yes, we are homeschooling them, everything is fine” is rather different.

Well, they might worry, but with the structure of the American school system, there’s not much they can do, right?

The word “standard” has a specific meaning within the American educational system, though I can appreciate that you might not know that. If you mean something different, it would be good to choose a different word.

I don’t think homeschool parents are allowed to say “everything is fine” with no further oversight. I can’t imagine why you think this is so. The American educational system is a really and truly gigantic mess, but you seem to be inventing problems that do not exist, and we’re getting far away from the OP. Children do have the right to an education, and if parents deny that through no schooling or half-assed homeschooling, the authorities can and will intervene.

The fact that American school districts have widely varying thresholds for “half-assed homeschooling” is a completely separate issue, nothing to do with children’s rights.

There is a very big difference between beating and spanking. I lived with an aunt and uncle for a few years as a child; my uncle’s idea of disclipine was abuse. When my mother found out she took me out of there. She did occasionally spank me, but it was not abuse.

Spanking a child on the bottom with a bare hand is not abuse, in my opinion. It is not necessary for all children - some children listen; others don’t.

My mother learned early that spanking was not an effective discipline for me. It was much more effective to restrict me from things I wanted to do.

Really? My understanding of home schooling is that there is a specific curriculum and the parent must demostrate that the child is learning that curriculum. Pickig fruit or tobacco 14 hours a day and assuring the authorities it’s “home schooling” will not fly. I know in Canada and in some US states there are specific parts of the department of education to ensure home schooling is being done up to the same standards as public school(??!!). Some even provide standardized tests. I would be curious to know if the rules anywhere in the USA allow exceptions to this even if the enforcement is wanting in some states.

That statement is incorrect. Parents may not beat their children. They can, however, spank them and there is a world of difference between beating and spanking.