Should Parents Be Held Responsible for Their Children’s Criminal Behaviours?

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.

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.

One New York Times article shares:

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 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?

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24 thoughts on “Should Parents Be Held Responsible for Their Children’s Criminal Behaviours?

  1. My mom often wondered where she went wrong with me. Now that I’m clean and sober, she mostly understands that she did the best she could, and that I was just born with the disease of addiction. So I fall on the side of “hell yes, parents should be responsible for raising kids who don’t murder people”

    1. Parents definitely can’t control all the influences that come into their children’s lives, but they can equip us with some of what we need to fight it off.
      Some of us kick those influences in the balls before they even get within good kicking distance of us. Some of us need a little extra time to find our footing before kicking out that foot. No person safely falls into either of those camps. We all fall into one or the other for different things in our lives. Addiction was a latter camp for you. The important thing is that you found your way out, and to me, that takes more guts than never wading into that water to begin with. *hugs*

  2. “For every parent who knows their children are sheep in wolves’ clothing, there are also parents who remain absolutely oblivious.”

    This line threw me for a second, but I got it. Perfect way to sum up the “my kids are angels” parents. Many of these parents are so blind/in denial, that it is very disgusting. However, I understand it. Does it make it right? Hell no.

    I didn’t vote on your pole because I was conflicted and wasn’t interested into engaging in deep thought. Topics like these require thorough a thought process due to the nuances that they are laced with. Therefore, I don’t frivolously answer them like many other people do…

    However I will answer now–yes and no. I did a debate on this in sixth form and we won the debate. We contested that no, parents cannot be held accountable. However, we were only afforded one stance, yes or no. Life is never that black and white as there exists many grey areas.

    So my answer depends on the quality of parenting, mental illnesses and the age of the child. Parenting is not easy, and that is why I too, have abstained from the idea. Nevertheless, parents need to know their child, they need to set boundaries, be involved in their lives, understand them as much as possible, stuff like that. And no, even doing these you cannot 100% prevent tragedies from happening like the ones mentioned in the post, however, they can drastically reduce the possibilities.

    1. The article is more about whether parents should be held responsible for their children’s crimes and not if they can. They absolutely can be held accountable. New York and California are two states that already do this, especially for gun crimes. And in, I think, all 50 states, parents are responsible for truancy.

      There are certainly some parameters that need to be in place, but ultimately, I think if parents took their “jobs” more seriously, we would have less juvenile delinquency. Some also wait until too late to try to correct problems they should have nipped in the bud from early childhood.

      1. Ahh, okay. Well, in that angle, yes. They should be held accountable. Parenting would be a harder job to pursue than it is now.

        JA need this. But, it wouldn’t be so easy given the socio-economic situations…

      2. True. I think countries with the resources need to do better when it comes to assisting parents as well. For instance, there is no paid federal maternity leave or law right now in America. Only some states step up to try. Mostly liberal ones, of course and DC.

        But definitely, if you don’t have the time (not just the money) to raise kids, you really shouldn’t. It costs the rest of us our own resources, and sometimes, our lives.

  3. I appreciate the last part of your post. I appreciate that you said you chose not to be a parent and your opinions are from that perspective. It is sad when adults who have no children have the audacity to have opinions on how to raise children.

    It is also really wonderful of you to acknowledge the complexity emanating from mental disorders.

    There is also a cultural aspect such as the Filipino Catholic culture. As a Catholic country with contraception not allowed by law (when I was growing up), taking contraception was as bad as having pre-marital sex. Now, pre-marital sex on its own is a sin. When I first “committed this sin”, at age 20, I went for confession. However, whatever it is that makes the youth have pre-marital sex, we find the youth “committing a sin” anyway. Then, there are a lot of those teenage pregnancies. I was still scared, being a 70s baby, so I only had the “courage” to be “naughty” a year before graduating from university. Less than a month before I turned 21, I gave birth to a daughter. In the Philippines, the parents would have forced the “children” to get married. Shotgun weddings, as we call them, are a “norm”. Lol! The father of my child was hardly 18. He wanted to get married. I wasn’t sure. My parents didn’t know because I lived in Manila and my parents lived in Botswana. Now, imagine children raising children!

    It is not as easy and simple as we may think, even when we are proponents of all things simple in life.

    Factor in other beliefs, how your children aren’t yours, you’re only an instrument of God, they have their own life, etc., the peers, environment, society. Take a look at two children from the exact same set of parents, living in the same home, being raised the same way. They do not always turn out the sact replicas of each other as adults.

    Tough subject…

    1. My mother shares my opinions on parenting and she raised me, so there is a lot less audacity behind my beliefs on this. I also find that many of the people who commented on the original Twitter post and on Facebook, who were in agreement that parents should be punished, were parents themselves.

      Unless the child comes from rape, parenting is a choice. Religion is also a choice. I choose, for instance, not to be religious or to follow its archaic principles.

      Parenting is also a big role for any human being to take on and I think too many people take this lightly or take lightly the risks that lead to it. Maybe if people had more “skin in the game,” such as being held accountable for the sins/crimes of their children (the Bible says they are and should be, ironically enough) that would change.

  4. Everything in life has (or should) have boundaries. Growing up my generation had plenty of them imposed upon us by our parents. Our parents were our parents, not our buddies or friends although in some ways they could be both. And if McDonald’s can be sued for too hot coffee (even though you spilled it on yourself) then if a child does something horrible and was living with the parent…. well!

    1. Agreed. I do believe the whole it takes a village to raise a child mantra, but the village should be supplementary, not a replacement for bad and negligent parents. Without learning to respect boundaries, children grow into entitled human beings who have zero respect for bodily autonomy and people’s rights to their own things.

  5. Parents are absolutely responsible for their children. It is their responsibility to teach them good behavior. To teach them right from wrong. To teach them to respect other people and their property.

    1. I’m glad we’re agreed on this! Parents should parent and if they can’t parent, don’t have kids, or they can give someone else the opportunity to be a good influence.

  6. it seems, every time some person has done something bad to someone else and they get caught or killed in the act of doing that something, the parents (usually its the mother) are heard to say…he/she was/is a good kid.

    i agree with you about the situation and about being minors. once they are of legal age, most if not all of the responsibility is no longer in place. but there are also situations where a person should be held accountable, if not completely but partially, if a crime has been committed by an other. an example would be a gun owner does not secure their guns, ie. leaves them out in plain sight, and someone uses them in a crime. but of course, federal, state, and local laws would apply as needed.

    but overall, i feel i agree with you.

    can you share some of the views from your poll?

    1. This is very true regarding their parents claiming they were good kids and the one action came as a surprise. I’ve also noticed that once you start digging, you realise there were clear signs based on behavioural patterns and how they were raised.

      You are right that even beyond minor years, there are instances when parents or other adults should be held accountable. I certainly believe this of the Dylan Roof case. He was 21 when he shot up that church, I believe, but he was living with his parent that whole time while displaying obvious red flag behaviours.

      As for the poll commentary, does the preview of the tweet with the poll show up for you at the start of the article? If it does, click on it and you can see what people had to say. If not, let me know. I’ll copy and paste a few comments across for you. Thanks! ☺️

  7. Verantwortung liegt an uns allem es ist Gesellschaft Problematik ,,, von Kindergärten an bis zum Persönlichkeitsbildern, ja je Gott im Herzen um zumessen verbessern wir unsre Wege, straffrei wie möglich. .

  8. I agree that parents should take some of the legal responsibilities of their children, at least while minors. The amount of responsibility might have to be on a case by case basis, but perhaps it would get rid of some of the deep denial out there…

    1. Agreed. It certainly isn’t applicable in all situations and things get tricky when you throw mental illness into the mix, but kids don’t raise themselves. Dig into the lives of most offenders and you can clearly see that the problem started at home. Too many parents are leaving parenting up to technology, teachers and the justice system.

  9. I have a few thoughts on this. First, parents do not always know what their children are doing. Saying “How could they not know?” fails to recognize that children, especially in the teenage years, are trying to find their own identity. Sometimes they make bad choices in doing this, and if they know their parents would disapprove they can be very creative in keeping those alliances and behaviours hidden from them.

    Second, it is hard for parents and others who love the badly behaved person to see what others see. Notably, the family of the Unabomber did not realize he was their son and brother until the brother married. It was his wife who saw it and alerted the family.

    Third, laying responsibility at the feet of the parent, while understandable, adds to the individual’s tendency to deflect the causes away from themselves. At what point do we make that person responsible for their own actions? Parents may have poor disciplinary skills but ultimately the behaviour is the result of the child’s choices.

    1. I’m no lawmaker, so what I’ve said is purely my own opinion. I did explain what my parameters were and that there are complexities to holding parents accountable, why and when. You are free to disagree. Thanks for dropping by. 🙂

  10. This is a very interesting viewpoint and opens up a whole new realm of possibilities. It is true that many “Parents” have long given up on raising their kids either because they have a problem themselves, drugs and poverty, come to mind but many others are not capable of teaching right from wrong. They are, of course, responsible for what they have spawned but how far into the future is debatable. The legality of that responsibility is also probably very questionable. Good article though.

    1. I set my limits at minors, because they’re supposed to be under their parents’ direction. As far as the legality of it, there are several states with the laws already in place. For instance, truancy laws tend to hold parents accountable. Similarly, in California, if a child takes a gun out of the home to school, the parent is held partially accountable. Parents who fail to keep their kids home during curfews might also face repercussions sometimes.

      You are right that some parents don’t know wrong from right themselves. That’s all the more reason for them to share a cell with their kids, if they’re condoning the behaviour.

      Thanks for dropping by!

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