By definition, criminal behavior is a specific kind of behavior and has legal ramifications. The word responsible has a precise meaning as well and has both legal connotations and parental fitness implications. In making a judgment about these two specific issues and other parental accountability questions, the determination of relevant factors that make up the answer must be identified and addressed.
The parental side of the equation includes: parental control options, child accessibility, time, mental and physical well-being of the child, siblings, family financial conditions, parental health capabilities, child peer interaction, family discipline protocols and perhaps one of the most crucial issues impacting a child’s behavior, parental cohesion.
A child’s side of the equation involves similar issues including: self-control, access to parental input, mental and physical issues, peer resistance and submission capabilities, acceptance of and submission to parental discipline and finally a child’s innate determination to either be a positive functioning member of his or her family group or not.
Unfortunately, what some children’s defense organizations seem to want to actively ignore is the fact that some children are much more aggressive than others or put in perhaps a more positive light, act out with excessive inquisitivity. But, parents of more than one child know from experience that each child brings its own set of qualities into a family. Some can be positive and some negative. The parent’s responsibility is to modify those personality aspects to conform to societal obligations.
Perhaps legal ramifications are the easier part of the responsibility issue to answer. The law prescribes certain restitution requirements if the criminal activity is property damage related to and caused by a child below the age of eighteen. A child usually does not have the financial capacity to provide restitution; the parents usually have homeowners insurance that can provide the financial coverage to pay for child-inflicted property damage.
Crimes against persons are a whole different criminal issue. The question of whether there is a health or mental issue involving the child and their chemical or “DNA” make up comes into play. Frequently, mental health care professionals are relied upon to determine if one of these types of issue are affecting the child’s behavior.
There is a tendency in society today to attempt to alleviate parental blame and put it on some mental issues such as Attention Deficit Disorder. While that type of issue may be a triggering factor, parental responsibility is still the primary element in determining accountability.
In any topic like parental responsibility there are exceptions, so the answers have to be addressed in a general, broad-brush way.
Crimes against persons by a child generally require a much more intense examination of responsibility. If a parent can be held financially liable, and damages recouped then the responsibility is on them, but the child may still face probation and incarceration if the crimes are severe enough.
Thus to answer the legal questions directly, it is a yes and no answer. Parents simply cannot control all actions by an independently acting child, when parents are not available for controlling the child’s behavior. But that does not preclude potential parental financial liability, while the child may face court judgment and sentencing. This is the ultimate illustration of the fact that it includes a yes and no response, making both child and parent responsible even if society specifically and legally assigns blame on the parent.
The Parent Fitness Issue
It seems unfair to lay all the blame on a parent in most child behavior issues, because every parent and child development professional knows, a child begins to express its independent personal rights and demands from the moment of birth. For some children with aggressive tendencies, no amount of parental input can necessarily overcome those tendencies, but it can help modify them.
There are some assumptions that have to be considered in this treatise. Single parent families have a more difficult time frequently because control of strong-willed children can be particularly difficult and boils down to a two against one confrontation and it helps if a parent has someone to stand with under those circumstances. So, most of the conclusions in this article are based on a two-parent home and is the basic benefit of parental cohesion, or in other words parents acting closely together in prudent unison.
Time and parental control options are intertwined. If a parent is not in the home to maintain control of a child it can obviously present problems. A parent cannot maintain control when they’re not home to give directions. But under the proposition that the Captain of the ship is responsible for what the crew does, is laid directly at the feet of the person in charge. Such is the case in child responsibility situations.
A sometimes forgotten factor is the parent’s health. Most everyone has seen amazingly young children take responsibility for siblings who are frequently only a few years younger than themselves. In catastrophic situations we often see television pictures of very young children taking over care of even younger siblings. It is both heart wrenching and a demonstration of human tenacity and resilience.
A parent’s health can preclude sufficient disciplining. If that is the case, a kind of parental clemency might be considered to mitigate parental responsibility for a child’s criminal activity.
Peer pressure has never been more important in industrialized societies. Children take advantage of technology, including social networking sites, to keep prying parental eyes off what they are doing. It’s another issue that makes it more difficult to determine parental responsibility. It’s also why we see constant reminders from religious and child welfare organizations to keep parental eyes on what’s being texted or even possibility “sexted” on a child’s Iphone.
Even with all the problems inherent in determining responsibility in the criminal behavior of a child, the legal recourse usually falls upon the parent by default. In worst case scenarios, a parent may teach criminal behavior to a child less than eighteen years of age, but generally it remains a legal question under current law.
This type of worst case is a parental fitness problem. That does not suspend a parent’s responsibility in other more general applications, which in some cases may seem unfair, but today’s society is a society inclined to assign blame and parents are considered captains of their homes. Like it or not, they are, by law, required to shoulder the responsibility for their children.