What Is Parental Consent?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Parental consent is assent on the part of the parent or parents of a minor child which allows the child to engage in certain activities. Many nations have consent laws which mandate that consent be obtained from at least one parent before a minor can do things like receiving medical treatment, getting married, or getting a driver's license. There are a number of arguments used to support such laws.

Parental consent is required for students to go on field trips to historic sites.
Parental consent is required for students to go on field trips to historic sites.

Some examples of activities which can require parental consent include: marriage, body modification, certain types of medical treatment, getting a passport, applying for a driver's license, going on a field trip, or participating in certain educational curricula. One reason for requiring consent is concern about liability. Minors are not held to the same standard of liability for their actions as adults are, and subsequently if a minor causes injury or damage, the parents may be held responsible. Because of this, many governments believe that before engaging in such activities, minors need the consent of their parents.

Parental consent is needed for a minor to apply for a passport.
Parental consent is needed for a minor to apply for a passport.

Another reason for parental consent laws is to protect minors. Jurisprudence holds the belief that minors lack the capacity to make informed decisions. In a situation, for example, where a 15 year old wishes to get married, there are concerns that the minor may be under coercion or that there may be factors which inhibit the capacity for consent. By requiring consent, governments hope to avoid situations in which minors are abused and exploited.

Parental consent may be needed before teenagers can get their drivers license.
Parental consent may be needed before teenagers can get their drivers license.

Especially in the field of education, parental consent laws may also center around the desire to respect the values and beliefs of the parents. For example, conservative Christian parents might be uncomfortable about having their children taken to a mosque on a field trip. By requiring parental consent for activities like field trips and controversial curricula, schools can give parents an opportunity to opt out if they feel that these activities would conflict with the practices and beliefs they are teaching at home.

Parents must sign a consent form giving their child permission to partake in some activities for liability reasons.
Parents must sign a consent form giving their child permission to partake in some activities for liability reasons.

Medical procedures are another area of the law in which parental consent comes up and can be controversial. Parents are allowed to make medical decisions on behalf of their children whether or not the children agree with this decision. This can result in conflict in cases where parents refuse treatment for their children and the children want the treatment, or vice versa. One area of medical practice in which consent is particularly controversial is abortion. Many regions have laws requiring consent or notification before a minor can receive an abortion.

There are opponents to consent laws who argue that some minors are capable of making informed choices and should be able to act on their own behalf. Some minors may sue for emancipation so that they can do just that. In other cases, it may be demonstrated that parents are not making sound decisions for their children and a guardian can be appointed to act on behalf of a minor until she or he reaches majority.

Parents may refuse to give parental consent if they believe their values and beliefs are being disrespected.
Parents may refuse to give parental consent if they believe their values and beliefs are being disrespected.
Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a wiseGEEK researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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Discussion Comments

anon205576

What about parental consent for a 16 year old going over to a friend's house? Is it illegal or considered kidnapping if the parents say they do not wish for the child to go to the other child's house, but they do anyway?

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