When is ‘parent-leaving age’?!

School-leaving age

In the U.K. and perhaps everywhere, we talk of ‘school leaving age’. That’s an admirably straightforward statement about the law and general expectation that it’s good for children to go to school until they’re 16. Even then in the UK you’ve to stay in full time education or be an apprentice until you’re 18. So you’re definitely more of a young adult than a child when you get to school-leaving age.

The rule for school-leaving age applies however mentally competent or passionate a younger child may be about not wanting to go to school.

So let’s hear it for ‘school leaving age’ … because in family law and most extremely in Parental Alienation, we face the dominant idea that children can voice and choose to get rid of one of their parents without any good reason from a very young age.

Parent-leaving age

Which leads to this idea: What about: “parent-leaving age”? Wouldn’t it be good to talk about parent-leaving age a lot more? As with ‘school-leaving age’, ‘parent-leaving age’ reframes the whole thing.

The immediate question is: But when is parent leaving age?

Legally and maturationally, young people are entitled to a more independent adult life at the same time as school-leaving age. Just as ‘school-leaving age’ helps re-set a child’s limited power to influence their schooling, so would ‘parent-leaving age’ change how we think about it, re-set their power to prematurely get rid of a caring and loving parent.

That’s quite an advance on the age at which family courts sanction even really young children to exterminate an entirely functional parent. Of course, we know that no child would ever do that except under undue influence from their resident parent. Hence the Alienation.

So when is parent-leaving age?

But here’s the thing: What we all realise as we grow older is that – however much you might like to completely get rid of your parents – and vice versa perhaps! – the answer to the question: When is parent-leaving age? is actually: Never!

So let’s hear it for ‘parent-leaving age’ too!

Nick Child, Edinburgh

About Nick Child

Retired child and family shrink and family therapist living, working and playing in Edinburgh.


  1. CG

    yep – have used the argument a number of times – to no avail – if child in our situation had wanted to extinguish schooling as their ‘right’ to do so all manner of action would have been taken. And all manner of sanctions taken against parent who then professed “well, I tried” “its what they want” “they shouldn’t be forced to attend” “I can’t make them do it if they don’t want to”, “they’re just speaking their own mind” etc etc


  2. 1. If anyone knows anything about child development, he or she knows that adolescence is the profound and active state of development between childhood and adulthood. The human brain is only mature enough to make such a profound, life altering decision after 20 or 25 years.
    2. If anyone knows anything about attachment, he or she knows that children do not abruptly reject a parent he or she is attached to, unless the other parent is coercing him or her to do so. Children remain attached even to parents who are abusive.
    3. If anyone knows anything about trauma, he or she knows that the final step in psychologically controlling another person (the child) is when he or she is forced to betray his or her closest human attachments (the other parent).
    The science is conclusive. Children in cases of alienation are too immature, too traumatized and too psychologically controlled to be forced to choose to disown a loving parent.


  3. Harriet

    This is a really nice blog, Nick. Within our culture of individualism where individualism is so highly valued, it is a timely reminder that we are all inter-dependent. And being schooled in hatred and rejection is fertile ground for poor mental health throughout life.


  4. samellen81

    Targetedmom – thank you so much for this wise comment – I am reading it almost a year after you wrote it, while our family are experiencing the nightmare of alienation from son and grandson. Your points are actually just ‘common sense’, and yet we are in a situation where the court may be influenced by a 12 year old boy, who as you say is “too immature, too traumatized and too psychologically controlled to be forced to disown a loving parent”. I am in Australia, and on a mission to raise awareness – do you have any advice ? My heart is with you.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Key activists in Australia can be contacted, I think, via the Eeny Meeny Foundation: https://emmm.org.au – and through the For Kids Sake organisation: http://forkidssake.org.uk


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