Should Parents Be Held Responsible for a Teenager's Actions?

Bad teen behavior can't always be blamed on the parent, according to award-winning journalist and health correspondent Patti Neighmond. Instead, she suggests that parents should look towards biology before jumping to any rash conclusions. The teenager is perhaps best characterized by a rebellious attitude, a lack of respect for authority figures, a tendency for rudeness and criticism of just about anything. Just ask most parents of any child between 13 and 19.

Modern Parenting

Twenty-first century parenting has changed. Neighmond suggests that these changes are visible in certain disciplinary measures -- obedience has become less important, while parents have started concentrating more on close relationships with their kids. Parenting has become less about fear-based relationships and authoritarian discipline. The freedom that the modern teenager enjoys allows his or her “acting out” to ensue; but this is as far as parents should take their responsibility for bad behavior.

Pure Biology

This bad behavior is often rooted in something which may be beyond a parent’s power of influence. The teenager’s brain, states James Chattra M.D., a pediatrician based in Redmond, is in a constant and rapid state of development. At this point, he suggests that the prefrontal cortex (the “thinking” part of the brain) experiences a significant shift, where a bulk of the neurons within the brain are temporarily “wiped out.” This process makes certain teenage reactions incredibly difficult to control.

Outside Influence

But, of course, it can’t be purely biological. Parents must have some say in how their child turns out -- it’s a pretty scary thought if not. Ugo Uche, licensed professional counselor at Psychology Today, brings up the point that it might be too easy to put the blame on the parents. If a teen is convicted of theft, one’s natural inclination is to wonder what kind of people his parents are. But in this case, the classic piece of wisdom that “it takes a village to raise a child” should be implemented. In the teen years, kids are actually more likely to be pushed into bad behavior by other people, not the parents. If certain peers at school pressurize an otherwise morally intelligent teen into committing the theft, he’s likely to succumb to it.

Playing it Safe

Teens are genetically wired to fall into a cycle of bad behavior, according to pediatrician James Chattra. And they are surrounded by people -- not their parents -- who are much more likely to succeed in pushing them into doing wrong. The parent comes in long before a teen is actually a teen. Take the extreme example of a teenage school shooting 3. Harvard Administrator Erika Christakis suggests that when a child has been brought up in a home that keeps guns, and has easy access to guns, responsibility of any harm that comes out of these guns falls on the parents for keeping the weapons within reach in the first place.