Top judge’s tough rules for bringing up a family

The country’s top family judge has urged parents to do more to ensure that fractious and rebellious teenagers do what they “ought” to be doing.

Giving a ruling at the Court of Appeal in London, Sir James Munby said there would be no winners if the parents of two girls, aged 16 and 14, who have refused to see their father for six years, did not restore their relationship with him.

Calling on the mother of the teenagers, only identified as J and K, to make the first move, Sir James said that being a parent was “a very big ask”.

“But that is what parenting is all about. There are many things which they ought to do that children may not want to do or even refuse to do: going to the dentist, going to visit some ‘boring’ elderly relative, going to school, doing homework or sitting an examination, the list is endless.

“The parent’s job, exercising all their parental skills, techniques and stratagems – which may include use of both the carrot and the stick and, in the case of the older child, reason and argument, is to get the child to do what it does not want to do.

He suggested confiscating mobiles and electronic gadgets, grounding teenagers, and “threats falling short of brute force” as suitable methods for parents to get their way.

The price of failure, the judge suggested, could be lifelong pain for the parents or even, if the children’s education or health was at stake, their removal by social workers to grow up in state care.

Sir James, sitting in the Appeal Court with Lady Justice Black and Lord Justice Vos, said: “Parental responsibility does not shrivel away, merely because the child is 14 or even 16, nor does the parental obligation to take all reasonable steps to ensure that a child of that age does what it ought to be doing, and does not do what it ought not to be doing.

“What one can reasonably demand, not merely as a matter of law but also and much more fundamentally as a matter of natural parental obligation, is that the parent does their level best to ensure compliance.

“That is what one would expect of a parent whose rebellious teenage child is foolishly refusing to do GCSEs or A-levels or “dropping out” into a life of drug-fuelled crime.

“Why should we expect any less of a parent whose rebellious teenage child is refusing to see her father?”

Nevertheless, the judges felt they were unable to allow the father’s appeal for various reasons.

But despite this, the court called on the mother to take it upon herself to rebuild family ties.