With school violence in the news, we are hearing the usual calls to hold parents legally accountable for their children’s acts. Without exception, the persons making such calls do not offer any empirical or even logical arguments for such a policy.
Thus, they cite no studies showing that jurisdictions that have parental-punishment laws have lower rates of juvenile delinquency; or that such laws correlate with better parenting discipline; or how much influence parents exert over their children’s behaviour.
They also end up contradicting their own argument. For example, one attorney in the same newspaper column asserted that (a) “It ought not to be that a mother, especially a single one, should be levelled with all the responsibility of a child”, and (b) “It may be time to introduce new legislation that allows parents to be charged or face criminal liability for the conduct of their children”.
However, it is a well-established fact that most delinquent children come from single-mother households, so any such law would disproportionately impact these women. Are they all to be incarcerated? Does the State have the facilities to take care of the hundreds of children who will then have to be housed and fed because their parents are in jail?
Finally, for those interested, twin and adoption studies, which tease out the influence of genetics and environment on child outcomes, find that parents influence only 14 per cent of their child’s conduct, with 48 per cent being accounted for by genes and 38 per cent by the outside environment, such as school.