Arresting Parents for the Crimes of Children

Bad ParentsThe recent case in which Rebecca Ann Sedwick killed herself after months of relentless bullying, mainly through social media and email, has once again brought forward the idea that parents should be punished for the illegal activity of their children.

The idea has a large emotional appeal because it is easy to blame poor parenting for bad children. Not only is it easy to associate the two but they are, in fact, often causally related. Children raised poorly by their parents often end up behaving in criminal ways.

The question that I intend to explore today is if such punishment is merited. Many experts argue that punishing the parent will do nothing to prevent such bullying but that’s not my focus here. I want to determine if parents should be held responsible for their children’s behavior.

There is some legal precedent for the idea. A number of states place various penalties on parents when their children are found guilty of crimes.

The idea is that parents would fear punishment based on the behavior of their children and thus take steps to curb said actions. If a certain number of parents are arrested for the crimes of their children, other parents will become more involved parents. That, out of fear, they will become better parents.

I’m convinced this argument is, at best, largely false. There are good parents and bad parents. Good parents will look at laws of this nature and possibly spend more time trying to be good parents; but the reality is that they are already good parents and their children are not likely to engage in this sort of bullying. Bad parents are living under the illusion that they are good parents or they simply don’t care. Therefore they will make no effort to change.

However, my main argument against this kind of law is that it punishes someone for a crime they didn’t commit. Yes, they were awful, absent parents but that’s not a crime. Their children committed real crimes and should be punished for doing so.

I think an interesting analogy would be punishing a dog owner for allowing their pet to roam free and defecate on lawns. The dog cannot comprehend the law and simply goes to the bathroom without cleaning up. The owner understands the law and allowed the dog, who doesn’t know any better, to violate the law.

Another example that comes to mind is leaving loaded firearms in places where children have access to them. A child shoots another child with said firearm. Parents have been convicted for crimes in these cases. I’m not opposed to convicting the parent of negligence in leaving a dangerous weapon so readily available but that is the crime of the parent. Possibly even convict them of negligent homicide. But the reality is the child pulled the trigger and should face whatever punishment law-enforcement and our judicial system deems appropriate.

I do not think a child is an animal. A child knows better; the sooner they learn there are consequences to their actions the better.

What message are we sending a child by punishing someone else for their crimes? It doesn’t take much of a leap of logic to imagine an angry child committing a crime in order to get their parent punished.

Those girls that bullied their classmate knew what they were doing was cruel and wrong. They should be punished. They should face the full force of the legal system. I have no problem with laws about making threatening statements, about libel, about slander. If the girls in this case have broken those laws then let them face punishment. They are not pets, they are people. Perhaps not adults but old enough to know right from wrong.

Laws must be enforced with blind justice.

In summation; people should be held responsible for their actions and their actions alone.

What do you think?

Tom Liberman
Sword and Sorcery fantasy with a Libertarian Ideology
Current Release: The Sword of Water ($2.99 for a full length novel)
Next Release: The Spear of the Hunt (Out very soon!)