Exercising parental authority, part I

By Ted Parker

SDPD Neighborhood Policing Resource Team

Good citizenship begins at home. Parents (and legal guardians) bear the primary responsibility for the actions of their children. They must set good examples for their children at home and in their community, teach morals and values, provide a safe home environment, ensure that their children get a good education, direct their children into constructive activities, be involved in their children’s activities, make their children responsible and accountable for their actions, etc.

Despite parent’s best efforts, children can be influenced by peer pressures and pick up bad behavior outside the home. Parents must learn to recognize signs that indicate their child may be involved in gangs, drug and alcohol abuse, graffiti vandalism, and other problems, and deal with them as early as possible. They must also make sure that their children abide by the curfew law, attend school, drive safely, stay away from guns, etc.

Parents in the Del Mar Heights neighborhood of San Diego who cannot deal with these problems on their own can get help and referrals from the Juvenile Services Team at the SDPD Northwestern Division by calling (858) 523-7000. Parents in City of Del Mar can call the Juvenile Detective at the Encinitas Sheriff’s Station at (760) 966-3500. Parents who fail in these responsibilities may be legally liable in various ways for the acts of their children. They may be charged with contributing to the delinquency of a minor, and held liable for restitution, fines, penalties, and civil damages.

Parents can get answers to many legal questions concerning their children from a booklet published by the State Bar of California entitled Kids and the Law: An A-to-Z Guide for Parents. This booklet, revised in May 2007, deals with a range of subjects from the “Age of Majority” to “Work Permits and Taxes” with references to the relevant code sections. It also contains a glossary of legal terms. It is not, however, intended to substitute for the advice of an attorney. Also, it may not provide the latest code references. The text is available in English and Spanish on the State Bar’s website at Copies in English, Spanish, or Chinese can be ordered by e-mailing the State Bar at or calling (888) 875-5297.

When a child becomes 18, he or she acquires a new set of legal rights and responsibilities. These deal with jury duty, voting, housing, contracts, torts, etc. They are discussed in question and answer form in a booklet entitled When You Become 18: A Survival Guide for Teenagers. The text of this booklet is available on the State Bar’s website in English, Spanish, Chinese, or Korean. Copies can be ordered by calling the State Bar or e-mailing it at

  1. Parents can use this booklet to help their children make the transition to young adults.

Some general parenting tips are listed below:

  • Make time every day to discuss the day’s events with your children. Encourage them to tell you about anything that makes them uncomfortable, or scares or confuses them. Listen to what they say and never underestimate their fears or concerns. Show them that you are always concerned about them. Effective communication is the most important factor in child safety.
  • Have clear family rules. The consequences of breaking them should be clear.
  • Be a good role model. Actions speak louder than words. Be the person you want your children to be.
  • Discuss the consequences of tobacco, alcohol, drug use, etc. Tobacco is addictive. It yellows teeth, fouls breath, and kills. Drugs, including alcohol, alter judgment and perspective, and interfere with physical, emotional, and social growth. They are also addictive.
  • Know what your children are doing. Know what they do in school and after school. Know their friends. Be involved in their lives.
  • Educate yourself on the social and emotional needs of your children.
  • Be alert for any changes in your child’s behavior. Look and listen for things that indicate something is troubling him or her. Children are often uncomfortable in disclosing disturbing events or feelings because they are concerned about your reactions to their problems. When they do talk about their problems be calm, compassionate, reassuring, and nonjudgmental as you work with them to resolve the problem.

The rest of this article contains information to help parents deal with various problems, namely, drugs, alcohol, graffiti vandalism, curfew violations, daytime loitering and truancy, unsafe driving, gun violence, shoplifting, internet and cell phone dangers, juvenile victimization, media violence, child abduction, and multiple problems. It also mentions various ways parents (and legal guardians) are legally liable for the acts of their children.
There’s more

Read Exercising parental authority, part II