Parental Responsibility, Blameworthiness, and Bullying: Parenting Style and Adolescents’ Experiences With Traditional Bullying and Cyberbullying

Published date01 June 2021
Date01 June 2021
Subject MatterArticles
Criminal Justice Policy Review
2021, Vol. 32(5) 447 –468
© The Author(s) 2020
Article reuse guidelines:
DOI: 10.1177/0887403420921443
Parental Responsibility,
Blameworthiness, and
Bullying: Parenting Style and
Adolescents’ Experiences
With Traditional Bullying and
Ryan Broll1 and Dylan Reynolds1
Parents are deemed morally—and, increasingly, legally—responsible for their
children’s misbehavior, and their parental aptitude is questioned if their children
are victimized. Parental responsibility laws and blameworthiness extend to common
occurrences like bullying. Literature broadly supports these principles for some
offenses through findings that effective parenting styles are associated with improved
adolescent outcomes, but evidence about the relationship between parenting styles
and bullying is underdeveloped and inconclusive. To study the relationship between
parenting styles and traditional bullying and cyberbullying offending and victimization,
data were collected from a sample of 435 Canadian middle and high school students.
The results suggest that parenting styles are not associated with traditional bullying
offending or victimization; however, neglectful parenting was associated with
cyberbullying offending and indulgent parenting was associated with cyberbullying
victimization. These findings suggest that the demandingness dimension of parenting,
which is characterized by rule setting and monitoring, is important for cyberbullying
traditional bullying, cyberbullying, parenting styles, parental responsibility, Canada
1University of Guelph, Ontario, Canada
Corresponding Author:
Ryan Broll, Department of Sociology and Anthropology, University of Guelph, 50 Stone Road East,
Guelph, Ontario, Canada N1G 2W1.
921443CJPXXX10.1177/0887403420921443Criminal Justice Policy ReviewBroll and Reynolds
448 Criminal Justice Policy Review 32(5)
Parents are often implicitly or explicitly deemed morally accountable for their chil-
dren’s transgressions. In some jurisdictions, parents’ blameworthiness is formalized
under the purview of “parental responsibility” laws (Geis & Binder, 1991). Under
parental responsibility legislation, all U.S. states allow parents to be held civilly liable
for their children’s actions, and some states allow parents to be held criminally
accountable for their children’s crimes (Brank & Weisz, 2004). Parental responsibility
laws are not limited to the United States. In Canada, for instance, three provinces
(Ontario, Manitoba, and British Columbia) allow parents to be held liable for some
forms of youthful deviance (The Globe & Mail, 2018). Addressing the quandary of
holding citizens responsible for the actions of others, Le Sage and De Ruyter (2008)
argue that parents represent a unique case because they are obliged to raise morally
competent offspring. According to their reasoning, parental responsibility laws are
just. Parental responsibility laws are further supported by evidence that parenting
practices do influence children’s outcomes. For example, parenting styles—or, the
extent to which parents exhibit demandingness and responsiveness in child rearing—
are associated with youthful delinquency (Hoeve et al., 2009).
While previously reserved for rare but serious offenses, parental responsibility
legislation has been extended to common forms of youthful deviance, like bullying.
In 2013, after the cyberbullying and ensuing suicide of 17-year-old Rehtaeh Parsons,
Nova Scotia—an Eastern Canadian province—passed the Cyber-Safety Act,1 which
included provisions to hold parents financially and morally responsible if their child
cyberbullied others (The Globe & Mail, 2018). Likewise, since 2017, the parents of
bullies in North Tonawanda, New York, may be fined US$250 (approximately
Can$350) and jailed for up to 15 days. In June 2019, the city council in Wisconsin
Rapids, Wisconsin, proposed fining parents up to US$313 (approximately Can$435)
if their children bully others (Bogel-Burroughs, 2019).
Parents’ aptitude and care for their children may also be questioned when their
child is a victim of bullying, and especially when adolescent suicides are linked to
bullying. For example, writing for the Huffington Post about Amanda Todd, a Canadian
teenager who committed suicide in 2012 after experiencing relentless bullying and
cyberbullying when her nude images were posted online, Shapiro (2012) mused,
Can we place blame on her parents? I don’t know them, I don’t know what kinds of
guidelines she was provided with regard to online safety. I don’t know if she broke their
rules or whether they had none. I don’t know what kind of home she had that she couldn’t
tell her parents what she’d done so they could call the police and put a stop to her torment.
Bullying offending and victimization are broadly categorized as traditional and
cyber. Traditional bullying refers to “any unwanted aggressive behavior(s) by another
youth or group of youth . . . that involves an observed power imbalance and is repeated
multiple times or is highly likely to be repeated” (Gladden et al., 2014, p. 7).
Cyberbullying occurs when the “unwanted aggressive behavior” is mediated by tech-
nology (Gladden et al., 2014). Recent reports from the World Health Organization
(WHO, 2019) and United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization

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