Earlier this month, I ran a poll on Twitter. I asked whether people believed parents should share partial responsibility for the crimes their children commit. In total, 160 people voted and 56.3% believed that parents should share no accountability for their children’s crimes.
Do you believe parents should be held partially responsible for the crimes committed by their children? When I say crimes, think big and small: from shoplifting to mass shootings. Note that some such laws are already in place.
Vote, RT and tell me why you say yay or nay.
— Alexis Chateau 🇯🇲🇺🇸 (@alexischateau_) May 14, 2020
I decided to wait until writing this post to say what my thoughts are on the matter and why. So, here goes!
The 3 Trigger Points
There were three specific instances in the news that led me to consider this question more deeply — and I’ll say now that all three of them involve mass shootings. However, my thoughts on this are applicable to smaller crimes as well, such as shoplifting and defacing property.
Trigger 1: Columbine
If you’ve been following my blog faithfully for a few years, you might remember a YouTube video I shared a few years ago. It was a brief documentary telling the Columbine story from the side of the oblivious mother who allegedly had no idea her son was a racist and killer. While watching the video, I wondered what most other people must have:
How could she not know?
Trigger 2: Charleston Church Shooting
Next in line was the man who walked into a Black church and killed nine people. When investigators went digging into the shooter’s past, they discovered that he had been sharing racist and murderous sentiments for years ― all while living with a parent. He also had a long history of disturbing behaviour.
He floated in and out of jobs, took drugs and drank, had run-ins with the police, began reading white supremacist websites and, in the months before the massacre, boasted of wanting to start a race war, friends and investigators say.
Trigger 3: Florida Teen Arrest
Unlike the other two, this incident did not manifest into an actual shooting — thankfully. That’s probably because officers made the decision to act swiftly and take the online threats seriously. In the video below, these officers patiently made several attempts to address the fact that the teenager committed a crime that warranted an arrest.
His mother, instead of allowing her son to take responsibility for his actions — or, even displaying outrage for his behaviour — proceeded to insist that he was a good boy. If you watch the video below and learn why the police officers showed up, you’ll see he’s not, in fact, a “good boy.”
‘How do we know he’s not gonna be the kid in Parkland?’ — This teen in Florida was arrested after ‘joking’ about shooting up his school in a video game chat pic.twitter.com/t5Tjp3Duev
— NowThis (@nowthisnews) August 20, 2019
How Parents Kill Lessons
I’ve seen these instances often. In Jamaica, a known criminal would die and his mother would come wailing on the news that her son was a good man who had never hurt a fly. My mother always rolled her eyes and said that these women took not speaking ill of the dead way too far because facts were facts.
Since living in America, I’ve seen these instances even more often, and involving people I actually know. Children do bad things and get in trouble. Then, parents rush in to spare them the lesson so they can spare themselves the shame. No one wants to admit they raised that child. Sometimes, the easiest way around this is to ensure no one knows the child did anything at all. Unfortunately, that puts the rest of us at risk.
My ex, for instance, used to brag about breaking into people’s garages as a teen, stealing radios out of cars and even shoplifting. I could never understand the way he said these things as if they were normal. Meanwhile, his mother would see the look on my face and begin to sound very much like the woman in the video above.
“He was a very good kid!” she would say, defensively.
I don’t know of any good kids I grew up with that broke into people’s homes and stole things. Nor did any of us think it was some normal rite of passage. And I told him so. I also told his mother that if I had known her son as a teenager, I would have avoided him like the plague.
I have always attributed a part of his inability to take responsibility for anything he does to the fact that he was never raised to do so. One day, when he left the room to take the dog out for a canine bathroom break, his mother confided in me with a sigh, “I really wish I had been harder on him,” she said. “Especially when I hear stories of how your mother raised you.”
I’d love to say his case was unique, but the longer I’ve been in America, the more routine this story becomes. Most people might think that, in America, this is primarily a White problem, but Black guys have shared similar stories. Black mothers have also told me how they raised their children without boundaries so they could “just be kids.”
“I had a lot of nice things before I had kids,” one Black mother told me. “I got rid of them all because I just wanted them to play and have fun without having to worry about taking care of anything.”
The end result was that her son didn’t even know how to make the bed at 26 years old and I am not exaggerating. He didn’t know how to take care of anything else either. How could he when his mother gave him nothing to care for? Most of what he owned was either broken or getting there.
When Parents Don’t Know Their Kids
For every parent who knows their children are sheep in wolves’ clothing, there are also parents who remain absolutely oblivious. They have no idea who their children’s friends are, what they do after school, what their hobbies are, where the kids are at night or that their 15-year-old has weed stuffed into the pillowcases.
How parents can live with complete strangers that they created in their own homes are beyond me. It is absolutely important to give children room to roam and grow. Teens absolutely need privacy. But, hasn’t that gone a little too far when you wake up one morning and realise your son is a murderer?
One of the big reasons that many parents don’t know their kids is delegation. There’s a lot of talk revolving around children raised by smartphones and tablets today. But, in the years gone by, it was the black-and-white boob tube that held children’s attention. Let’s not forget burdening tired grandparents, nannies, maids, teachers and older siblings, too. Negligent parenting is not a new phenomenon.
When things go unchecked for too long, then police officers become part of the Delegate-Parenting Committee. And, as we’ve seen in recent times, many prefer to kill than teach. Subsequently, several jurisdictions across America now consider holding parents more accountable. California and New York are two states that have some such laws in place. Some parts of Atlanta are now considering the same.
Another unnerving fact to come to terms with is that many parents don’t know their kids because they don’t like them at all. If they could toss them out of the car and drive away guilt-free, they would have done it ages ago. That’s probably what makes it so easy to delegate parenting to someone or something else. As long as they don’t have to deal with them, why complain?
Who Should Be Held Accountable
By now, you can guess what side of the fence I lean heavily on. I believe that a parent’s job is to parent. People who do not want that responsibility can simply choose not to be parents at all — as I have. However, if you raised a demon spawn, you should absolutely take responsibility for that demon spawn’s actions while they are minors.
Yes; some children get out of hand and always seem to find new ways to land in trouble. Parents who try everything under the sun to keep them in line should not be held accountable. However, if that includes coverups instead of letting them face the consequences of their actions, that’s not helping. That’s playing the quiet accomplice with the shovel and a flashlight.
There are also cases of mental illness worth taking into consideration, which further adds some complexity to the issue. In most cases, people considered criminally insane don’t pay for their own crimes. Why should their parents? And, if their parents believe they are capable of violent crimes, should they report them? The fact is that many do, and I commend their efforts.
At the end of the day, I certainly don’t have answers to all the questions and I am no parent myself. However, parents have an incredible privilege and burden to raise the next generation. Parents who don’t take this role seriously, or who would rather protect their children from the consequences of their actions, deserve a share of the sentence.
If more parents felt that pressure to take responsibility for their children, I think they would become more attentive. And, as I’ve said before, many of us might reconsider becoming parents at all and take more active steps to prevent the possibility. It certainly won’t give us a crime-free life anytime soon, but it’s a start in nipping the problem in the bud.
As for me, whenever I meet people who tell me their parents were hippies who raised them without boundaries — especially millennials — I run in the opposite direction for dear life. I have boundaries and I have no room in my life for people who weren’t raised to respect them. I married into that once and befriended that several times. I learned my lesson the hard way and would never travel down that road again.
What about you? Do you think parents should take some of the legal responsibility for the offenders and criminals they helped raise? If no, why not? If yes, where would you draw the line in terms of age, mental health, and other factors?