Parents Behaving Badly: the ‘Ugly Parent Syndrome’


The term ‘Ugly Parent Syndrome’ is used to describe parents who are verbally and/or physically abusive while supervising children. It is most often witnessed at children’s sports events.

Parents yelling at their kids, swearing at referees, and abusing other participants are all common behaviours of the ‘ugly parent’.

A recent incident of ugly parent syndrome emerged at a child’s birthday party at an indoor play centre in Sydney’s south-west.

The incident began when two children bumped into each other on the play equipment and had an altercation. It was then that one of the parents intervened, reportedly pulling the hair of one child. The child then went and told her father. This resulted in a physical altercation between the two parents and other intervening adults. Police are currently investigating the incident, which could result in criminal charges being laid.

It’s easy to see how people can become caught up in such an altercation when emotions are running high and parents seek to protect their children, whether at a play centre or on the sidelines.

So what sorts of charges might you face when a minor altercation escalates?

Codes of conduct and the law

Codes of conduct operate in both policy and in law.

In most public venues, whether sporting or social, codes of conduct are displayed at the entrance.

In entering the venue, visitors are taken to agree with the terms and conditions of entry, including the code of conduct. Breaches of the code will most often result in being ejected from the venue.

The law will normally support a venue ejecting someone if a breach of the terms of entry has occurred.

If there was an entry fee, this will normally not need to be refunded by the venue because a breach of the code amounts to a breach of contract by the purchaser.

If the breach was due to violence or damage of property, the person may also face civil liability or even criminal charges.

Depending on the nature of the incident, criminal charges may include common assault, affray or reckless damage. If someone was injured, the conduct may amount to a more serious assault offence such as ‘assault occasioning actual bodily harm’ or ‘reckless wounding’.

Are there any defences to these charges?

In most criminal matters, the prosecution is required to prove the offence beyond a reasonable doubt.

If there is evidence of a valid legal defence, the prosecution will be required to prove beyond reasonable doubt that the defence did not occur.

The most common defence in situations that involve aggression or violence is self-defence. This is where the defendant has acted to defend themselves or others, and their conduct was reasonable in all of the circumstances.

If self defence is raised, and the prosecution is unable to disprove it, then the defendant must be found not guilty.

How kids can be affected by ugly parents

In 2013, Flinders University examined the impact that aggressive ‘sideline’ behaviour from parents has on children’s sport.

The research concluded that such conduct has led to children disengaging from sport, and has resulted in coaches calling off sports carnivals.

Researcher Sam Elliot told News.com.au that “Poor parent behaviour impacts on children’s confidence, motivation and continuation, not just from game to game, but from season to season.”

There is little doubt that children can be affected when they witness aggressive and violent behaviours from adults.

This is why codes of conduct and behaviour manuals are now commonplace in nearly all children’s sports, and cover not only participants, but also parents and spectators.

In deciding whether to take action for a breach, the enforcing body will normally consider:

  • The seriousness of the breach.
  • The likelihood of the breach occurring again.
  • Whether the person has committed the breach more than once.
  • The risk the breach poses to employees, students and young people or any others.
  • Whether the breach would be serious enough to warrant formal disciplinary action.

Penalties for breaches may include bans, formal apologies, and even referral to police.

Are you facing charges after an ‘ugly parent’ incident?

No parent can be blamed for wanting to protect their child from harm.

The key is balancing the act of protection with appropriate behaviour and modelling the right way to approach conflict resolution.

If you have become caught up in an ‘ugly parent’ incident, whether at an event, on the sidelines, or even at the school gate, your best course of action may be to contact a criminal lawyer.

A lawyer who is experienced in defending the typical charges that might arise from these sorts of incidents can assist in a number of ways, and may even be able to get the charges dropped before they end up in court.


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About Ugur Nedim

Ugur Nedim is an Accredited Specialist Criminal Lawyer and Principal at Sydney Criminal Lawyers, Sydney's leading firm of criminal and traffic defence lawyers.
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