On Youth Delinquency and Parenting

Despite the recent movement to make parents more responsible for their children’s actions, there is almost no research on the role of parents in the juvenile court system. This chapter will review a research project that was undertaken by the American Bar Association, the only published study of the role of parents. A critical review of this study will lay the foundation for the research questions and the methodology of this study. But most importantly, this expository paper will elucidate the role of parents in youth crime or juvenile delinquencies cases.


As I have already mentioned in the history chapter, the rise of parental responsibility laws in the United States during the 1980’s and 1990’s was influenced by the continued rise in juvenile violence and the inability of the traditional system of juvenile justice to adequately address the problem (Lansing, p. 23). The purpose presented by various state legislatures was to protect the welfare of children and to reduce juvenile crime by causing parents to be more diligent in the care and supervision of children (Lansing, p. 44).

As Howard Davidson (p. 111) argues, “parents whose actions or indifference contribute to a child’s violent and destructive behavior must be held to a legally appropriate standard of responsibility with civil and criminal sanctions” (p. 23). But the question that needs to be addressed is what dictates a child’s parental responsibility? Researchers suggest various criteria that should be weighed upon before finding a parent responsible of neglecting parenting duties and therefore subject to parental responsibility laws. I will next address these factors.

Sharon Lansing, in a Public Policy Report, argues for three criteria that should be addressed when determining culpability. She first argues that parents must have knowledge of a child’s prior misconduct. When parents are aware that a certain behavior, such as petit larceny, has occurred before and fail to take action to stop it from happening again, they become culpable for their child’s behavior. Secondly, she argues that the liability should be restricted to either the same or some similar future misconduct in order for parents to know what he or she must guard against.

If, for example, a parent restricts a child to his neighborhood in order to prevent him from going to the mall and stealing once again, and he then engages in an act of arson by burning down the neighbor’s shed, the parent should not be held liable under the law. If they continued to allow the juvenile to go to the mall unsupervised, even after several acts of larceny, they would then be liable. Finally, according to Lansing, the parental duty to be informed and provide constant supervision should be restricted to a limited time period following the juvenile’s initial violation, as an extended time period is perceived to be unreasonable.

Lansing notes that violations that might hold parents responsible would include curfew violation, truancy, and any delinquency charges. Another factor that might be important for the courts to establish when addressing parental responsibility is whether a causal relation between the deficiencies of parents and the delinquent condition of the child can be established. If you cannot show causal relation, according to Raymond Vincent, then any judicial interference is unwarranted.

For example, Vincent argues that you cannot ask a father to limit his hours at work, therefore impacting his ability to put food on the table, in order to spend more time with his son, even if the greater supervisory time would limit delinquent activity. Vincent suggests that the reasonableness of an order directed at parents needs to be examined from two points: Does the order correct the identified deficiency, such as enforcing a curfew limits a child’s ability to engage in unsupervised activities, and does the parent have the ability to perform the order, such as limiting work hours to be with one’s child(ren) (Vincent, pp. 65-71)?