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Dr Shelagh Wright - Systemic and Family Psychotherapist and Family Mediator

I've Been Thinking - Dr Shelagh's Blog


Being a parent it something many people take for granted. The idea of being a parent is often romanticized in the media leaving the reality as a well kept secret for most first time parents. Becoming a parent is often not something that is given much thought until the first child arrives.

There are some basics of parenting which can be usefully applied to most ages and situations, these are:

For example: when putting a child to bed at night having a set time and routine for this during which the parent is loving and demonstrative stating clearly that it is 'bed time'. If the child does not stay in bed then the parent is firm but non interactive in placing the child back in bed with the same clear statement that it is 'bed time'. The child will soon learn that the ‘fun' time does not occur if it gets up again.

For example: when an adolescent begins to be more independent in going out with friends, having a specific time to be home. If this time is not adhered to then the adolescent would not be allowed to go out the next time. (These times and where they are going can be negotiated with the adolescent on each occasion or there can be blanket rules about where they are allowed to go and what time they need to be home).

For example: when a child is told off by one parent and runs to the other for comfort it is important for that parent to reinforce what the first parent has said before and during giving the comfort, thereby letting the child know that both parents are in agreement about the scolding and expect the child not to do it again.


Major developmental theories, such as those of Erikson, Piaget, Freud, all recognize the movement from one stage to another at around eleven to twelve years of age. This is a time of major change and developmental upheaval for young people when they are entering into the pubertal and adolescent stage.

There are four key areas of development for adolescents:

Anything that interrupts the major areas of development can return the young person to a stage of dependence of a much younger child. At this stage of development young people would be beginning to see parents as fallible individuals and becoming critical of them, while the young person herself is becoming very sensitive to criticism. She may be preoccupied with conforming to her peer group and opposing her family.

With a young person of this age parents might normally be taking a step back because of the young person's increasing sensitivity to criticism and growing autonomy and independence. However, when there are difficulties for example development of an eating disorder, parents are more involved particularly around the eating and so are not able to give the young person the increased space she needs developmentally.

At this stage control battles between parent and child are likely to emerge as they did in the pre-school toddler years when frustration was a prominent part of the young child's experience.

Difficulties at this stage disrupt the healthy developmental progress into adolescence:

Some Additional Information about Children and the Law The Law (this section includes some hyperlinks to 'wikipedia' for additional information).

Parental responsibility refers to the rights and privileges which underpin the relationship between a child and either its parents or those adults who have a significant role in its life.

In English law, under s3(1) Children Act 1989, Parental Responsibility '...means all the rights, duties, powers, responsibilities and authority, which by law a parent of a child has in relation to the child and his property'. Under s2(1), both the child's father and mother have Parental Responsibility for the child if they are married to each other at the time of the birth. Under s2(2), where the child's mother and father are not married to each other at the time of the birth, the general rule is that the mother has sole Parental Responsibility for the child unless the child is freed for adoption or is the subject of an Adoption Order in favour of another person. But if a child's birth is registered or re-registered from 1 December 2003 and the unmarried father is named on the birth certificate, this also gives him parental responsibility. Under s4, a father can obtain Parental Responsibility by:

Parents with Parental Responsibility are entitled to be consulted in educational and medical matters concerning their children. Where a person has PR no-one may: (a) take a child out of the country for more than 30 days without an Order of the Court, or (b) change the surname of the child.


In Scots law, issues relative to parental responsibilities are dealt with under the Children (Scotland) Act 1995, which provides for the making of 'residence' (custody), 'contact' (access), and 'specific issue' orders. These may be applied for by anyone with an interest in a child, not merely parents. Under section 1 of the 1995 Act, parental responsibilities are, where practicable and in the best interests of the child, to:

These responsibilities last until the child is aged 16, with the exception of the responsibility to provide the child with appropriate guidance, which lasts until the child is aged 18. Under section 2 of the 1995 Act those with parental responsibilities are given correlative rights to allow them to fulfill those responsibilities. These rights are:

Having PRRs entitles a parent to take key decisions relating to the child, such as where they will live and go to school, and what medical treatment they should receive. In addition, parents have an obligation to provide financial support for their children under the Family Law ( Scotland ) Act 1985 (c 37) and the Child Support Act 1991 (c 38). In certain circumstances, this obligation continues when the child in question is beyond the age at which his or her parents have parental responsibilities under section 1 of the 1995 Act. The child's mother, irrespective of whether she is married to the child's father (s3(1)(a)) and the child's father, but only if he is “married to the mother at the time of the child's conception or subsequently” (s 3(1)(b)) have automatic rights (a married father's PRRs continue after divorce, unless they are specifically removed by a court. Unmarried fathers, step-parents and others must either make a Section 4 Agreement, or apply to the court under section 11 for rights.

This list identifies a range of parenting issues that affecting separated and divorced parents, that is regarding their children:

Parenting plan

The Parenting Plan is a leaflet published by the UK's Lord Chancellor's Department and now carried on by the Department for Constitutional Affairs intended to be useful to parents involved in divorce or separation.

Family and Children Audio