In my experience, when you want to refer to father & mother, you say "les parents". if you want to refer to a larger group of relatives, you say "la famille". "nous sommes parents" means we have a family link. "a-t-il encore des parents ?" or "a-t-il de la famille ?" expect an answer about father, mother, brothers and sisters or further. Therefore, I would not call "parents" a faux-ami.
It just have more than one meaning.
"proche parent = a close relative"
If you go to hospital to visit someone, you will be asked "Vous êtes un parent (une parente) ?". This does not mean "Are you the patient's father (mother)?", but "Are you a member of close family?".
"un parent isolé" is a single parent - most often a mother (rarely a widow, more likely divorced or abandoned by the child/ren's father).
"une parente" is a women member of family: fille, mère, petite-fille, belle-mère, tante, nièce, cousine, soeur, belle-soeur.
"des parents adoptifs" (père adoptif, mère adoptive)
"(un/une) des parents proches" vs "(un/une) des parents éloignés" (1st circle vs distant family members)
"les parents biologiques" (père biologique, mère biologique)
When you say you are something, you can also mean you have that status. Either description is valid.
When I say I am a parent and someone says what does that mean, a perfectly reasonable answer is ... I have certain relationships that go with the term.
We need a parent to sign this form........I am a parent, I have that relationship.
Parent means general relation in French rather than specifically mother or father, as it does in English.
There are some contexts where (according to Duolingo) mother and father are intended, such as "Les parents aiment leurs enfants." Can anyone please elaborate on the colloquial guidelines for when we can infer that "les parents" refer specifically to mother & father?
[Sitesurf's answer above addresses this question about usage guidelines]
A: Parent in French implies a family connection to another person through your mother and father (parents in the English sense).
EDIT: Removed description of parent as a faux-ami (false cognate). While my source does list "parent" as a faux-ami, since there is an overlapping meaning between languages, this is not quite the right term -- faux-ami implies entirely different root meanings. Regardless, it's important to recognize parent has a more general family meaning in French.
This is annoying me too. The translations are totally confused - and I was not confusing les parents with the English parents, just going by the drop down vocab which in this case seems to mean whatever takes the programmer's fancy at the time. The meaning can be different in two adjoining parts of the lesson. Then there's the other issue of acceptable English usage being rejected because it's not US usage. I've been defending Duolingo among friends who have given up because of these kinds of issues but it's getting really difficult to justify. A pity because Duolingo does do a lot of things very well.
No it is not a "faux-ami"
"proche parent = a close relative"
While the french noun requires an article ("le"), the English noun does not require it. That is one of the reasons why English speakers are often puzzled at having to put an article in front of french nouns. French rules of grammar do not apply to the English language so I would submit to you that "le parent" translates perfectly to "relative" without being required to put "THE" in front of it. If it was used in a sentence that indicated the proper translation should include the article, there should be no hesitation in using it, but for a single word, the article is not necessary in English.
I'm not really familiar with usage of either le parent or les parents. However, French does have some interesting differences in usage for different forms of what is otherwise apparently the same word. I really wouldn't be surprised if they were used differently. As to problems with other dialects of English, helenvee, you should always use the "report a problem" button when it comes up. Since I speak Standard American English, and don't know anything but the spelling differences with British Standard, I don't know what usage issues might come up. On occasion, Duolingo doesn't permit "natural" language responses where the literal translation is a bit weird, but I'd think that would be a problem for everyone. I have to keep reminding myself this is based on the dialects of France, which can be very different from Quebec!
Just as English has different accents and dialects, so does French. Almost every book and service for teaching French is based on how they speak it in France, specifically Paris. It's come up before on the boards here, and Duolingo is based on the average for France. To give some examples, my father is from Montreal and my mother is from Gaspe. Their accents differ from each other. But their French differs even more from Parisian French. There are differences in vocabulary, pronunciation, and grammar. It's still mutually intelligible, but there are hitches here and there (like between American and British English, which are different dialects of English).
I found this link about the word on WordReference useful http://www.wordreference.com/fren/parent It seems that the word is derived from the verb "parer" which can mean to "prepare" or "invest". So a "parent" seems to refer to somebody who is further back in the family tree than I am - a mother, aunt, uncle, step-father, etc - but not somebody of my generation such a a brother or cousin.
That is not quite right. I assume you typed "parent" and not "un parent". By doing so, you obtained results for verb "parer" as well as for noun "parent".
So, back to "parents" - etymology: from latin parentem, accusative of parens (« father or mother»), from verb parere (« beget »).
The French "parent" or "parents" is very broad, since, depending on context, it can mean "parent", "relative", "kin", "relation" (re. bottom of this page: http://www.wordreference.com/fren/un%20parent)
It is just like family in English. People routinely refer to people, who are not related to them, as being family. You just have to use context to know whether they are relatives or fellow workers in an office who feel close to each other. Referring to someone as brother, sister, uncle etc when they are not related is a common practice in English.
In French, parent can mean relation, significantly close relative or parent. Context tells you which.