2014 Symposium: How can we hold parents accountable for their children?

Myrtle Beach: This is a fully loaded question. Let me begin with saying I am not a parent so my opinion is formed based on what I see from friends, family, and the news; so take it with a grain of salt. There is undeniably a problem in our society with our youth. Where does the problem lie? It is so simple for parents to say “I can’t watch my kid 24-7”. While, this statement may be true, I think a “good” parent shouldn’t have to!

Allow me to clarify. A parent who is fully involved in teaching right from wrong at a young age should have those values instilled so deeply in their children that their children will know at an older age what is wrong. To be fair, many children today come from broken homes (which is another issue completely) and it is difficult to keep the values cohesive across the board. Unfortunately, it is the nature of the beast. But, this issue can be overcome. I can’t go into how to parent your kids. I could write a book but haven’t had any of my own so nobody would read it.

The only way to overcome this completely it to hold parents accountable for their children’s actions. BOTH PARENTS! None of this “she was at her Mom’s House” crap. They are still both parents’ children. Punish the parents for their child’s behavior and I guarantee we will see results. Maybe, a high fine for the first offense, community service for parent and kid for the second offense, and third offence the parent has to attend school and be with the child literally 24-7 (I was going to suggest jail time, but this seems like a better solution). It may sound harsh but this is the only way we could ensure accountability falls in the right hands.

To go farther, use a three strike rule. Your kid messes up three times and you’re out. Kid goes to military school. If you can’t control your child, you shouldn’t be raising a child. Simple as that.

Prescott Valley: Parents can be held accountable for their children in a number of ways and it begins with parents prioritizing and realizing responsibilities rather than passing them on to others or blaming others. Many of today’s parents have been allowed to abandon the duties of raising their children and have given them over to the schools, friends, relatives, counselors and others to raise, train, educate, nurture, nourish, and discipline.

In order to hold parents accountable for their children, the parents themselves have to learn responsibility and accountability. They may have responsibility and accountability with careers and other pursuits, but they can easily abandon the parenting process to someone else when self-emulation and the easy way out is available, especially when someone else does the hard task of parenting whether directly or indirectly.

Holding parents accountable for their children begins with parent involvement. That means putting time aside for the child in every phase of his or her life, which takes organization and time management skills and someone to monitor follow through with the child. As an example of parent accountability, a number of schools now require parents to participate in their child’s education. Pending legislation in Florida asks that school administrators grade parents for involvement or noninvolvement in their child’s education while the state of Indiana wants to require that parents participate in their child’s education for a required number of hours throughout the school term.

For parents who refuse to send their children to school or whose children are chronically late or missing from school, many states are initiating plans to punish parents for habitually absent children. In the state of Maryland some parents have been incarcerated for not bringing their children to school. Other states, such as Alaska can be fined up to $500 for unexcused absences, and the state of California has passed a law where parents can be prosecuted and incarcerated for their children’s excessive absences.

Parenting classes are another way to hold parents accountable for their children and are oftentimes a requirement in divorce cases where children are involved, but parenting classes are often utilized in cases where parents are given choices over more penalizing actions. Parenting classes usually involve basic skills of rearing a child from changing diapers to dealing with defiant behaviors. Different strategies are addressed in the methods of disciplining a child or dealing with making the appropriate decisions in general concerning a child, all of which guide parents towards accountability.

In more critical issues, where children are found carrying weapons, smoking, or using drugs, cities and towns are utilizing ordinances that hold parents accountable for their children’s behavior. In the town of Silverton, Oregon serious fines are imposed for these critical incidents. Parents can agree to attend parenting classes in place of the fines. Crime prevention groups in other states are proposing state legislation to make it a felony if a parent has failed to store a firearm properly or in an unsafe manner where a child can gain easy access to the weapon. In San Antonio, Texas the city passed ordinances on juveniles concerning firearms, day and nighttime curfews and graffiti removal. All ordinances imposed fines on the parents and their teenage children. Violent crimes were significantly reduced with the accountability imposed on parents through these fines and penalties.

Just as children need to be held accountable for their behaviors and choices, parents need to be held accountable in the same manner. If parents make the wrong choices concerning their children, there have to be consequences in place for their choices, just as there are for children. Placing the blame on others only serves to delay the consequences. No parent should be allowed to get away with altering rules to fit their needs to avoid responsibilities concerning their children. There are always extenuating circumstances with parent accountability, particularly if the parent has done everything possible to be supportive of their children in every instance, but many parents do not follow that path and require outside intervention to remedy accountability issues.

Raleigh: One of the best experiences in life a person can have is having a child. But—while a child brings enormous pleasure and delight to most parents—there is also a huge responsibility put on both parents to raise a child right. There is a need to feed, clothe, educate, and, most importantly, instill proper moral and ethical qualities into the child from the moment he or she was born. However, some children—due to their upbringing, home environment, suffered abuses or inherent psychological problems—turn the wrong way and commit crimes.

The U.S. Supreme Court held that parents have a fundamental right to rear their children without undue interference by the government (Pierce v. Society of Sisters, 268 U.S. 510 (1925); however, in the same decision, the Court upheld the power of states to force parents to ensure that their children attend school. As such, to what extent should the society hold the parents responsible for their children? The best answer is, “At least as when they can function.” With the obvious increase of school shootings (most horrible one is Sandy Hook Elementary School) all over the country and bullying as well, some parents have to be better attuned to their children and their underlying problems.

At the moment, most parental liability laws criminally punish parents for what they have not prevented their kids to do rather from what their kids have already done. There are also status crimes (when parents fail to perform basic responsibilities) and contributing crimes (for example, when you buy alcohol or cigarettes for minors). Most of punishments are rather mild. As such, it’s necessary that parents face the same (or even harsher punishments) for crimes which their under 18-years old children have committed. If you cannot control your child and unleash her/him on the world, the child is parents’ responsibility and liability. Nobody but you knows the underlying problems. A parent needs to seek professional help for a child before escalation; needs to control the medicines; needs to alert the school for potential breakdown. If a parent fails to do that, she or he is as guilty as their child who did not get proper medical or psychological attention due to inattention of his or her parents.

Cartwright: If children don’t know how to act in public, it’s because the parents have failed to teach them and to discipline them. This could be a function of just pure ineptitude of the parents or perhaps their parents didn’t teach them. Parents are ultimately responsible for their children’s behavior, and there are really no excuses. There’s no way to penalize the parents as a means of holding them accountable for their kids per se. I think there are several points to make here.

First, kids need to be taught foundational values like the difference between right and wrong, the concept of personal responsibility, and that decisions and actions can have consequences. A good way to start is by teaching them the Golden Rule and the Ten Commandments. But aside from that, parents need to teach their kids how to behave and how to act in public. It never ceases to amaze me how many parents let their kids misbehave in restaurants and seem oblivious to it. I guess this is because the parents themselves have no manners and are so self-absorbed and self-centered that they don’t care about anyone else. Personally, I don’t feel that I should have to put up with people’s kids misbehaving in a nice restaurant. As a parent you may think your kid is great and special and the center of the universe, but I don’t.

Second, discipline has pretty much vanished from parenting skills. Parents want to be their kid’s friends instead of being the parent. Kids will have much more respect for parents who parent than they will for their parent/friend. Discipline is the means to reinforce what you’ve taught the kid. Actions have consequences. If you do something wrong, you get grounded or you get spanked. I don’t see anything wrong with spanking a kid as long as it doesn’t go too far. I got smacked across the butt with a belt on a couple of occasions, and I learned real quick that I didn’t want to get the belt again. I had my mouth washed out with soap once. I didn’t want that to happen again. A little discipline will go a long way. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard parents tell their kids this: “Don’t do that. Don’t do that. Don’t do that. I told you not to do that. Don’t do that. I’m going to take your toy away if you do that again. I’m going to take your toy away if you do that again.” And the parents do nothing and the kids keep doing what they want. First time the kid misbehaves, you give them a warning. Second time, you jerk a kink in them. That’ll probably straighten them up real quick. Threatening that you’re going to do something and then never doing anything only emboldens the kids because they know you’re a coward and that you’re not going to do anything.

Third, shaming or embarrassing people is a real effective way to get them to change their behavior. Business owners need to say something to parents when their kids are misbehaving in their establishment. So what if they leave? You can actually do without their business. Other patrons will thank you. If the owners or management of an establishment aren’t going to say anything, it’s up to other patrons to say something. I can think of two instances in the last month where this happened, and I was involved in both of them. First, I was having dinner in an upscale restaurant and the large party at the table behind us had three kids ranging in age from about six to ten. The middle one, he was probably about seven or eight, refused to stay seated and was up and down and running around. The parents kept telling him to sit down, but he didn’t listen. After about a half hour they told the kid to sit down again, so I turned and said in a voice loud enough for the tables around us to hear, “He didn’t listen to you the fifty other times you told him to sit down, what makes you think he’s going to listen now?” The restaurant got real quiet and all eyes seemed to be on them. The parents were quite embarrassed. They gave me very dirty looks, as if I cared, and the wife apologized profusely. The husband took the unruly child outside. When they returned, there were no further problems.

The second instance was at another nice restaurant. Two children, probably about five or six years old, at the table next to us were running around their table then our table and the parents seemed oblivious to it. They just continued to enjoy their food and their conversation with an older couple who I presumed were the wife’s parents. Luckily, they were nearly finished by the time I was seated. I made eye contact with the father a couple times and sort of shrugged. He then tried to reign the kids in but to no avail. I noticed a couple of other diners were also getting frustrated. Soon, they picked up their stuff and started to leave. I stood up and started to clap without saying a word, which prompted a couple of diners around us to join in on the clapping. The wife look like she could have died from embarrassment, and the husband just had a real stupid look on his face. Hopefully, that gave them something to think about on the car ride home, and maybe it will prompt them to take action to see that their kids behave a little better next time.

Now, I’m sure some of you are thinking that I’m quite the jerk for doing this type thing. You’re certainly entitled to your opinion. I don’t have a problem with kids; I don’t have any and I don’t want any myself. Most of the time, you can look around and see other kids in a restaurant and they’re better behaved. I have no problem with that and I welcome that. I’ve even commented to parents about how well behaved their child is, and they seem to genuinely appreciate that. But like kids or not, I don’t believe there is any excuse for them to misbehave in public. If you’re a parent going out in public, the world doesn’t revolve around your kid. Have some courtesy. It’s real simple.

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