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The Human Side Of Emancipation Of Minors

Aug 17, 2007
When considering emancipation, parent and child alike must enter into the process with open eyes and minds. More than merely understanding the issue, each must be prepared for the consequences of their action and the influence exerted by friends, family and others.

Parents have a responsibility, to which they indirectly agree when having a child. That responsibility is to care for and support that child until he/she is able to responsibly manage his/her own affairs. Parenting is a difficult undertaking and requires sacrifice, long-term commitment, and financial resources.

This is not to say that parents have to sacrifice their own well being in deference to their children, but obviously, parents (responsible parents) have experience, good judgment, and resources that enable them to guide their children to adulthood.

Children have responsibilities to their parents, too. Children are expected to respect their parents, follow reasonable rules, and be considerate and courteous towards their parents and other adults. Often, this is where the problems arise which lead child and parent to consider emancipation as an option.

Although these aren't legal responsibilities per se, they are still valid. There are also legal issues that can pit child against parent. For example, a child may refuse to attend school, repeatedly play "hookie," disrupt the classroom, or engage in criminal activity (drugs, theft, etc.). These kinds of problems can be extremely difficult for parents to deal with and literally tear families apart.

Parents can become angry and frustrated with children; children become frustrated, resentful and angry at parents. The result: the home life is chaotic. Children want out from under control of their parents and parents throw up their hands is despair and want the problems to disappear but don't know how to make it happen - emancipation is seen as the simplest solution.

The most important question to answer regarding emancipation is: why emancipation? Clearly, the obvious advantage of emancipation is that it separates child and parent. But, at what cost? That's the family or values side of the issue that so often is left out. Following emancipation there may be child regrets or parent regrets or both.

Fortunately, emancipation is not like a restraining order. Parents can still help their children, after emancipation, and children can ask for and receive their parents help.

Emancipation is just one option that children and parents have available. Out-of-home placement, foster-care, and relinquishing custody to state/county agencies are other options that might provide solutions. The one advantage of these option is that they are usually less permanent than emancipation.

In addition to being able to answer the question: why emancipation, both parents and children must be willing to live with the consequences of their decision. As mentioned earlier, emancipation should never be considered without a clear understanding of all rights, responsibilities, and liabilities. To do otherwise is courting disaster.

So what are others going to think when a child is emancipated? Friends, immediate family and distant family will question the decision and put immense pressure to bear on parents. Questions will arise as to the ability of the emancipated child to manage his or her affairs.

How will these not-so-objective bystanders be handled? It's going to be extremely tough for parents to counter the belief that they are shirking their parental responsibilities.

Likewise, it is difficult to convince others that the parents have tried everything in their power to salvage the relationship. What's more, there are also religious, and possibly cultural considerations.

Just as marriage is considered a permanent union, so families are considered permanent as well in some religious and cultural groups. Thus, if parents and child embark on emancipation, they may become outcasts. How is that to be dealt with?

As any parent knows (and most children eventually learn) life is complicated - sometimes unfair, sometimes frustrating, there are no guarantees, never is it always blissful. If parent and child enter into the emancipation decision with open eyes and without anger, it can work and everyone can win.

If however, one or the other (or both) parties are selfish in their reasons for seeking emancipation, it is most probably not going to turn out well.

Here's a hypothetical situation to consider: a child, 15 years old seeks to be emancipated from her sick, drug using mother. There are other children in the family and the 15 year old has been "taking care of the family" for some time. She doesn't want to do it anymore and wants to be emancipated.

How should this play out? On the one hand, the 15 year old is completely ignoring the fact that her mother needs her. She may not be receiving thanks or experiencing appreciation, but that doesn't diminish the need or her value to her mother.

Also, there's an issue regarding the other children, what happens to them if the 15 year old becomes emancipated and moves out? Would she take them with her? I don't think so.

Doesn't the 15 year old have some responsibility towards her mother? I'm sure society believes she does. Perhaps the 15 year old would be better off assisting her mother get help by contacting the appropriate social services agency rather than abandoning her family. Were she to leave the family and something catastrophic were to happen, how would she feel? Interesting questions, aren't they?

Suppose, however, we look at the above situation from a different perspective and see things as the 15 year old might see them. Perhaps this girl has coped with this situation as long as she can and is unable to continue living her life this way. Maybe it's in the best interest of her very survival that she distances herself from the situation.

By her seeking emancipation, it could bring attention to the problems in the home and so bring about positive change. In order for her to be granted emancipation status there would have to be some social services involvement and they would see that the girl's mother needs help. The result could be that the girl becomes emancipated - which is good for her; and, the girl's mother would get the help she needs - which is good for her and the other children in the family.

I hope the above example points out how complicated these issues can be and how very important it is to examine them from all angles. The human, family, values side of emancipation is far from easy, yet is vitally important to understand fully.

Guilt, anger, regret, survival, and happiness - the emotional aspects - can make emancipation a sticky issue. Parents may come to second-guess their decision years later. Children will surely come to a new understanding of their parents and parenthood as they become more experienced in life. Keeping the lines of communication open and not burning any bridges can go a long way towards making emancipation a win-win option.

Whether emancipation serves its intended purpose all depends upon how the emancipation decision is made and whether all ties are severed or not. In many cases continued parental involvement will be invaluable to the emancipated child.

Parents have a lot to offer their children. Children, as most of us parents must learn to live with, often don't come to appreciate their parents until later in life. Responsible children that grow up to become responsible adults learn that their parents weren't so bad after all.

Life is continually throwing curves and it's impossible to hit home runs every time at bat! Parents need to keep trying and children need to be forgiving. If that happens, many problems will be resolved without having to resort to emancipation.
About the Author
John C. Blacker is the author of: Survival Strategies For Parents Of Troubled Children, a book offering options for parents struggling with the challenges of parenting troubled children and has a web site and blog that can be viewed at: Information for Parents of Troubled Children Please visit.
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