Holding parents responsible: Is Vicarious Responsibility the Public's Answer to Juvenile Crime?

Eve M. Brank, Edie Greene, Katherine Hochevar

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

9 Scopus citations


Parental responsibility laws hold parents accountable for the delinquent behaviors of their children even when parents' actions are not the direct cause of an offense. Despite the prevalence of these laws, we know little about their perceived fairness. Is it reasonable to make parents vicariously responsible for outcomes they could not have foreseen and if so, under what circumstances? Our series of three studies addressed those questions by systematically examining the impact of various situational and dispositional factors on public opinions regarding parental responsibility. Respondents attributed most of the responsibility for a crime to the child, and attributions of responsibility to the parents varied as a function of the child's age. Case characteristics including the type of crime committed and the described parents' actions versus inactions did not consistently influence responsibility attributions. We conclude that people feel rather lukewarm about the notion of vicarious parental responsibility and this indifference may be related to issues surrounding the laws' enforcement.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)507-529
Number of pages23
JournalPsychology, Public Policy, and Law
Issue number4
StatePublished - Nov 2011


  • Juvenile delinquency
  • Parental responsibility
  • Vicarious responsibility

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Social Psychology
  • Sociology and Political Science
  • Law


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