Parental responsibility towards their children

From parental authority to parental responsibility: A revolution in family relationships

The transformation in the relationship between parents and children has undergone a radical metamorphosis in recent years. But what triggered this change? And how has it influenced the daily life of Italian families?

The birth of parental responsibility

The changing legal landscape

The objective was clear: to strengthen the self-determination of children. In the past, parents had almost unlimited powers, but with these new laws, the emphasis has shifted to the importance of their children’s wishes and aspirations.

The position of children: the center of attention

The world is changing and with it the perception of children in society. Now, their role and interests are priority. Indeed:

Parental responsibility and self-determination

The redefinition of parental responsibility does not stop with the law. It reveals a growing trend: recognizing children as individuals with the right to make autonomous choices.

Today, a truly greater emphasis, compared to the past, is given to the position and interests of the offspring, since, for example: 

  • parents must exercise parental responsibility taking into account “the abilities, natural inclinations and aspirations of the child” ;
  • the duty to provide moral assistance to the child has been added to the already known duties of maintenance, education and education, whereas previously moral assistance was provided only between spouses and not towards children,
  • the recognition of the natural child by the parent is not possible without the consent of the minor who has reached the age of fourteen, 
  • the age from which the minor can be heard by the judge has been lowered, from fourteen years of the previous version to the current twelve years and even to a lower age if the minor is capable of discernment, when one of the parents appeals to the court in case of conflict on issues of particular importance concerning the offspring.
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Parental responsibility and child self-determination

The new parental responsibility leaves room for the self-determination of minor children and enhances it, sometimes even to the detriment of the parents’ educational freedom: as the child gradually ceases to be the object of protection, he becomes the protagonist of autonomous choices, to which corresponds to a responsibility connected to the choice. 

Parental responsibility is a fundamental concept in family law. It refers to the complex of rights and duties of parents towards their minor children. These rights and duties have as their main objective the protection of the physical, psychological and emotional well-being of the child, as well as his education and training.

The main features of parental responsibility include:

Education and Training : Parents have the duty to educate and train their children, guaranteeing them an education suited to their abilities, natural inclinations and aspirations.

Physical Wellbeing : Parents must ensure that the child’s physical needs are met, including food, shelter and medical care.

Psychological and Emotional Wellbeing : It is essential for parents to provide an environment in which the child can grow in a healthy psychological and emotional way.

Legal Representation : Parents represent their child in all legal matters until the child reaches the age of majority or is declared emancipated.

As adulthood approaches, the importance of the child’s self-determination is recognized, that is, the child’s ability and right to make decisions regarding his or her own life. Self-determination can cover many aspects, from education to medical decisions, from friendships to recreational activities.

As your child grows and matures, it is essential to balance parental responsibility with your child’s self-determination. This balance can become a challenge, as parents may feel they know what is best for their child, while the child may feel the need to explore and make their own choices.

In many legal systems, the law recognizes this growing capacity for self-determination of minors, allowing them, for example, to have a say in judicial matters affecting them or to consent to medical treatments in certain circumstances.

The religious freedom of the minor

In this regard, think of the religious freedom of the minor, which naturally constitutes a limit to the educational freedom of the parents, which is also expressed in the religious field.

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Taking inspiration from this regulatory data, if we wanted to identify an age from which the minor’s decisions on religious matters can no longer be questioned by the parents, it could be set at fourteen, i.e. the age at which normally you enroll in high school.


But the freedom of religious education of parents also finds an insurmountable limit in the protection of the minor from irreparable prejudices, which has led, in numerous cases, to measures of limitation or forfeiture of parental responsibility, with a ban on the parent , for example, to bring their child with them to events and meetings of their faith, as is evident.

The minor’s freedom in relation to medical treatment

It appears necessary, today, to recognize that minors who are capable of discernment have the right to express informed consent to health treatments that concern them, or at least to have their wishes taken into consideration with respect to them.

Indeed, denying this possibility to the minor, especially when he is close to the age of majority, would lead to an absurdity: the minor would be deprived of very personal rights for the sole consideration of the formal fact represented by the minor age, while, for example, an adult subject but subjected to support administration could exercise greater self-determination.  

The problem, if anything, concerns the assessment by the health worker of the minor’s maturity of judgment, necessary to inform him of his health conditions and acquire the relevant determinations, which does not have certain parameters, if the parameter constituted by the greater age.

After having reiterated that, for the abortion of a minor, the consent of those who exercise parental responsibility over her is required, he specifies that in the first ninety days of gestation, when there are serious reasons that prevent or advise against consulting those exercising parental responsibility , or these, when consulted, refuse their assent or express differing opinions.

The need to balance parental responsibility and self-determination of children, case by case

The need to take into consideration both the responsibility of the parents and the position and will of the children makes it necessary for parents, lawyers and judges to understand, case by case, the capacity of discernment of minors, and balance educational needs. underlying parental responsibility and the wishes of minors.

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Avoiding both the outdated idea of ​​absolute subjection of children to their parents and an unconditional choice in favor of the self-determination of children, trying to always maintain the objective on the interests of the minor, in a logic that cannot be defined except as a logic of concrete case. 

Balancing parental responsibility with children’s self-determination is a crucial challenge in modern society. This balance becomes essential in ensuring that children’s rights are respected, while at the same time maintaining adequate protection. Here are some points that outline the complexity of this topic:

  1. Emotional and Intellectual Maturity : Not all minors reach levels of maturity at the same age. There are 12-year-olds who can demonstrate sharper discernment than some 16-year-olds. Therefore, the maturity of each minor must be assessed individually.
  2. Parental Responsibility : Parents have a duty to educate, protect and guide their children. However, this does not mean that minors do not have a say in decisions that affect them. The key is dialogue, where parents actively listen to their children’s concerns and consider their opinions.
  3. Role of the Legal System : In particularly complex situations, such as divorce cases or when the rights of minors are violated, lawyers and judges play a fundamental role. They must carefully weigh the rights and responsibilities of the parents against the best interests of the child.
  4. Best Interests of the Child : This principle, fundamental in conventions and laws relating to children’s rights, holds that every decision affecting a child must have his or her well-being and best interests at its centre. This may, in some cases, go against the wishes of the parents or the minor himself.
  5. Cultural Evolution : While some cultures emphasize obedience and absolute respect for elders, others give more space to independence and self-determination. In a globalized society, it is essential to recognize and respect these differences, adapting the approach according to the cultural and individual context.
  6. Education and Information : It is important to educate both parents and minors about their rights and responsibilities. Greater awareness can prevent conflicts and misunderstandings.

In summary, the balance between parental responsibility and children’s self-determination requires a personalized approach, based on mutual respect, listening and protection of the best interests of the minor.

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