Raising children and parenting laws in the United States

There are many parenting laws in the United States of America; these are rules to protect children and give them rights. There are also laws for parents to establish the parents’ rights and responsibilities.  Learn about parents’ responsibilities, find rules about children at home, school attendance, kids’ behavior, and other valuable information.

father and daughter with computer

Parents’ responsibilities and duties

Parents have basic legal duties that they need to fulfill, like providing education for their children, providing food, clothing, housing, access to medical care, protection, and financial support. These parents’ responsibilities will end when the child becomes of age (18 years of age in most states).

Failing to provide these basic needs for your children could get you in trouble with the law.

In case of divorce, the law will define what you’ll be responsible for providing for your children and how you’ll meet your legal obligations. New partners of parents can not make decisions about the children, even if these new partners are ‘parental figures’ or are behaving like parents.

You need to fulfill your parents’ responsibilities or risk losing your parental rights; these are some of the circumstances to terminate your parental rights:

  • Severe or chronic abuse or neglect of a child.
  • Sexual abuse.
  • Abuse of other children in the household.
  • Abandonment.
  • Long-term mental illness of the parents.
  • Long term alcohol or drug-induced incapacity of the parents
  • Failure to support the child.

If your children are removed from your home, you still have responsibilities. Learn more on this page from the American Bar Association.

Can I leave my children at my house or apartment without me?

In the USA, young children and babies cannot be left at the house without an adult. In most states, kids over 12 years old can take care of their younger brothers or sisters.

If you leave your child at your house or apartment alone, you can get into trouble with the government.

If you work and have young children, you will need to pay for your children to go to daycare or have a babysitter. The government checks daycares to make sure they are taking good care of your kids.

If you do not have enough money to pay for a babysitter or daycare, you might be able to “trade” with another family. You could watch their children some days, and the other family can watch your children another day. You might be able to find a mother or father in your community to watch your children.

The national program HeadStart offers childcare and pre-school education to low-income families.

What happens if my children don’t go to school?

In many schools, there is a system to deal with students who fail to go to school. Usually, there are fines or even legal consequences for the parents of recurrent offenders. 

Parents of children under 18 years old (age could change by state) -who do not attend school regularly- could face trouble with the school and the local authorities. But before that, the school needs to follow a set of procedures that could include contacting the district superintendent, meeting with the family, and sending written notices.

In more complicated cases, law enforcement is called. The parents are taken to court to be charged with a civil violation, take parenting classes, attend counseling, and even receive a monetary fine.
Remember, you -as an adult- are responsible for your children attending school.

Can I hit my kids when they misbehave?

In the United States, you can not hit children. If you hit your children, the government can take your children away from you. If your children are not following rules, you need to learn other ways to teach them to be good.

When parents or others hit or harm a child, it is called child abuse. In the U.S., there are child protection laws to stop people from hurting children. 

What can I do if my kids are acting very American?

You might feel sad because your children are becoming very American. It is often easy for kids to adjust to American culture because it is easier to learn English for them. But remember that you want your children to succeed in America, and even if you feel sad, it is good for them to adjust to life in America.

In the United States, many parents and teachers tell children when they are doing a good job. If you say to your kids, you are pleased with them; this will help you have a good relationship with your kids. Many refugee and immigrant kids say they wish their parents would praise them if they do something good.

Talk to your kids about your home country. Share pictures and tell them about your favorite things from your country.

Find one thing you and your kids both like about America. Do that activity together. For example, you might all like baseball. Go to baseball games together with your children.

How can I teach my children our language?

You can help your kids learn English and your language. Your kids will learn English faster if they also keep speaking and understanding your language!

When your kids are at home, let them speak in both languages.

Ask them to read books in your language. Watch movies and listen to music in your language.

I am worried my son or daughter is using drugs or alcohol

If you are worried your son or daughter is using alcohol, you can talk to your doctor or teacher. In the United States, teachers help families. It is very typical to talk to teachers.

You may feel embarrassed. You might not want people to know your child is having a problem. But if you hide the problem, it will get worse.

This information is intended for guidance and is updated as often as possible. USAHello does not give legal advice, nor are any of our materials intended to be taken as legal advice. If you do need legal advice, we can help you find a free or low-cost lawyer.