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Parental Responsibility In Tragedy: “Paying” For Your Child’s Behavior

peter gustafsonHow would you feel if your child (under the age of 18) committed a violent crime or “tortious act” such as a knifing attack, campus massacre, or a simple assault that results in prison time? Would you feel guilty, begin to blame yourself, or question what went wrong in the mind of your child? Even more, how would you feel if the parent of the victim decided to sue you for your child’s behavior? Many states, in fact, all 50 states have imposed some variation of the Parental Responsibility Act.

It’s difficult for parents to learn of the fact that their child has engaged in some unimaginable act that resulted in the demise or injury and harm of someone else. It’s even more difficult for a parent to learn that not only is their child responsible for the harm caused, but they must now serve time in a juvenile center or legal facility to pay for the crime. The enduring sense of loss, confusion, hurt, and pain remains with many families for years, even after the court trial has ended. Families very rarely forget or move beyond the emotional and psychological scars the tragedy, at the hands of their flesh and blood, has caused everyone. In the state of Pennsylvania, about a week ago, a young 16-year-old teenager in an upscale neighborhood and school district went into his school and began stabbing his fellow classmates with two kitchen butcher knifes. About 20 students were harmed (3-4 severely harmed and needing surgery), and 1 Principal. The stabbings not only resulted in shock across the community, but many angered, afraid, and confused people looking to place blame. Of course, when tragedies occur we look for someone to blame and make pay for the pain (emotional, psychological, and even physical) that has been caused. But this isn’t alway the best route to take or the most wise.


However, due to our black-and-white legal system, someone must pay (despite the presence of a potential mental health problem). This young man, Alex Hribal, is supposedly being charged as an adult in the stabbing of 20 victims, and will not talk to authorities seeking a “why.” Not only did this young man not have a history of mental health problems or being treated for mental health needs, but he was reportedly shy, smart, and kind. This is another tragedy. We often look at the exterior of our kids, often ignoring the underlying problems. But beside this point, is the fact that now his parents must face multiple lawsuits from families suffering pain. Many of the students stabbed in the rural tragedy were graduating this year, on their way to college and into new areas of their young lives. At this point, many have been stopped by the tragedy that may result in PTSD, depression, anxiety, or simple fear to move on or enter another classroom. Many kids are now “stuck.” Not only is the life of Alex Hribal over, but so too is the 20 victims of Franklin Regional High School.

The debate is controversial and painful to say the least. What do you think of this tragedy? Should parents be held responsible for their child’s tortious behavior toward others? Some people say yes. In fact, all-50-states embrace a law “Parental Responsibility Act (or law)” that requires parents to pay for the criminal-like behaviors of their child. All states are different, but in Pennsylvania, a parent may be liable for a minor who is found adjudged guilty of a crime and may be responsible for at least $1,000 per injured person, and up to $2,500 + court fees, pain and suffering, etc. The state of PA requires that a parent under legal scrutiny pay the fine and that courts prove the parents knew their child had problem(s) they failed to control. For example, a parent who purchases alcohol and knows their son or daughter drinks it and allows this individual to drive or “hang out” under the influence and a crime is committed, it is likely the parent will suffer the consequences.

In fact, in the Columbine shootings of 1999 resulted in a settlement of 1.56 million dollars to the victims of the shooting. The parents were held liable for the majority of cases. Most insurance companies will not pay for such crimes, which leaves the responsibility in the hands of the parents of the perpetrator. That responsibility could amount to thousands, millions, and billion of dollars.


As always, feel free to share your perspective as we learn together,

All the best


 Photo credit: peter gustafson

Parental Responsibility In Tragedy: “Paying” For Your Child’s Behavior

Támara Hill, MS, LPC

Támara Hill, MS, NCC, CCTP, LPC, is a licensed therapist and certified trauma professional, in private practice, who specializes in working with children and adolescents who suffer from mood disorders, trauma, and disruptive behavioral disorders. She also provides international consultations and works with some young and older adults struggling with grief & loss or life transitions. Hill strives to help clients to realize and actualize their strengths in their home environments and in their relationships within the community. She credits her career passion to a “divine calling” and is internationally recognized for corresponding literary works as well as appearances on radio and other media platforms. She is an author, family consultant, Keynote speaker, and founder of Anchored Child & Family Counseling. Visit her at Anchored-In-Knowledge or Twitter and Youtube Youtube If you are interested in scheduling a telehealth family consultation, feel free to let me know.

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APA Reference
Hill, T. (2014). Parental Responsibility In Tragedy: “Paying” For Your Child’s Behavior. Psych Central. Retrieved on November 14, 2019, from


Last updated: 13 Apr 2014
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