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  • Mama PhD

    Mothers attempting to balance parenthood and academics.

Accountability vs. Responsibility
November 7, 2010 - 5:21pm

A recent New York Times article describes an incident in which two young people on bicycles ran down an 87-year-old woman on a Manhattan sidewalk, knocking her to the ground. The woman suffered a hip fracture that required surgery. A judge has ruled that they can be sued for negligence.

You might think a lawsuit is a light punishment for that degree of reckless behavior—unless you consider that the perps were 4 and 5 years old, and their bikes had training wheels.

The court, of course, was dealing with a legal issue, not a moral or ethical one. But the article brought to mind recent discussions on this forum about how old children need to be before they are held fully accountable for their actions.

In this instance I think most readers (though possibly not all) would agree that the problem was probably insufficient supervision. The outcome was no less tragic because it wasn’t the children’s fault, of course.

But what is the cutoff age for full responsibility for one’s acts? Thirteen, the age of maturity in any number of religious traditions? Sixteen, like the recently expelled Choate students? Eighteen, like the students who streamed Tyler Clementi’s romantic encounter? Are education and cultural background mitigating factors? What about IQ?

Seriously — what are we talking about when we say that children, or teens, are responsible for the outcome of their actions?


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