Parents Have Rights, but They Also Have Responsibilities

smiling black woman supporting little pupil during lesson in classroom

As the old saying goes, with rights come responsibilities.  A community member recently reached out to me and asked if I would be willing to define a parent’s responsibilities in the education of their child.  I found this to be an interesting and important topic that merits discussion, so I agreed to do so.  We have to be real with ourselves and acknowledge the fact that the two go hand in hand, that we cannot effectively have one without the other.  Whether they are Constitutional or Parental, there are responsibilities that go with those rights.  I am first and foremost, a Parental rights advocate, and will ensure Parent’s rights are upheld, meanwhile, I also appreciate this community member’s inquiry and the value it brings in keeping the balance within how we think about Parent’s rights.

I see the following as the responsibility parents have in directing the education of their child.  It’s not necessarily a comprehensive list, and is broad on purpose, as it is difficult to get into every nuance of every particular situation over the course of a brief article. I believe these suggestions provide us with some guidelines on the responsibilities that accompany parental rights that are worth keeping in mind.  The list is not in any particular order, i.e. I am not saying one is more important than the other, rather that they work together to grant the student the best possible outcome for their education. 

  1.  Parents have a right to advocate for their student, they also have the responsibility to do so.  Children don’t know what they don’t know, so no matter how much they may fight or try to push their parent out of the decision making process, the parent must advocate on their behalf.  Whether that is for extra help at school, or whether it is for the imparting of wisdom on the student gleaned from their own life experience, the parent must be an advocate.
  2. Parents have the responsibility to hold their student accountable.  That means setting expectations with them and holding them accountable to meeting them.  Not every student is going to be an “A” student, but setting a realistic goal and holding the student to that goal goes a long way in establishing accountability.  Parents know their child’s strengths and weaknesses better than anyone, so if a student has a subject they are strong in, the expectations and goal may be higher for that subject than one they are not as strong in.  They also need to hold their student accountable for the coursework they are assigned.  Teachers are there to hold students accountable for the in class work, parents need to hold students accountable for the out of class work and for the goals they have set with their child.  Expectation setting and accountability goes for behavior as well, as in it should be an expectation that common decency and respect is shown to peers and adults that are not the child’s parent, and the child should be held accountable to meeting those expectations.
  3. Parents have the responsibility to understands all facets of an issue involving their child and to model respectful conflict resolution.  Teachers are human, they make mistakes.  Parents are human and also make mistakes.  There can be misunderstandings between teachers and parents at times. If there is an issue within the classroom, the parent has the responsibility to communicate via email or phone call or even set a meeting with the teacher in order to clear up any misunderstandings or issues in a respectful manner.  Kids see how a trusted adult responds to a situation, and they learn how to respond in kind when they are someday in a similar situation.
  4. Parents have the responsibility for ensuring their child is ready to learn.  This one is where things can get a little sticky because of the differing family situations of each individual child.  There are a lot of different nuances here that could be articles of their own.  Maybe the easiest part of this one is making sure the student is getting enough sleep, so they are well rested for school (even this has its own nuances).  The harder part of this is making sure the student has what they need to engage in learning, (i.e. the necessary supplies, enough to eat, etc.) due to the differing nature of family economic situations.  In this case, when there is economic hardship, what I see the parental responsibility being is to raise their hand and say they need help.  I’ve seen time and time again our community step up to help those in need, and step up big when someone raises their hand and asks for help.  Our schools also have programs to help as much as they can to meet needs.  Asking for help is hard for all of us, it’s not in our nature to do so, but if anyone truly needs help, especially for their child, it is the parent’s responsibility as their advocate to do so.

As I mentioned at the start, this list is not necessarily comprehensive, and certainly trends toward the broad side of things, but I believe it gives a good direction as to what responsibilities parents have in terms of directing their child’s education.  I will not rest in ensuring Parent’s rights are upheld in helping guide their child’s education, but equally important is keeping in mind the responsibility parents have in directing their child’s education.  I want to thank the community member who took the time to message and engage me on the topic, as this is the kind of dialog we need to ensure our communities and their schools are the best they can be.

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