This thread is full of very good observations. I agree that the older children become, the more responsible they become for their own actions. Parents have obligations to teach their children responsible behavior and to discourage irresponsible behavior. If parents do neither, they bear a large moral responsibility for a child's bad behavior; whether they should be held legally responsible is a much more difficult question.
That depends on the age of the child.
If a child is in a pre-operational or concrete-operational stage where the abstract and the concept of consequences are still hard to fathom, then the parents are responsible to help the child understand the concept of action/reaction.
If a parent is consistent and effective in showing this correlation to their child, then the child would be well suited to operate on his or her own during their operational stages, because they would have had the support and guidance of a good parent.
Now, if the parent has left a pre-operational or concrete-operational child to be raised by the TV and Xbox 360, careless providers, and the computers, of course the child would not know what in the world to do in a situation of social learning. Hence, the parent is directly responsible for not taking the time to teach these concepts to the child.
However, let's also consider mental processing problems. Jeffrey Dahmer presumably had two very good parents. He ended up being a sadist, a cannibal, and a serial killer. Those issues are different because this idiot was obviously sick. Yet, not long ago new information surfaced implicating the parents in extremely permissive behavior that may have accelerated Dahmer's already-sick mind.
So, childhood is the maker of heros or losers. And parents are responsible or SHOULD be responsible for their children!
The first thing I thought of when I saw this posting is the incredible and disturbing book, that has recently been released as a film, entitled We Need to Talk About Kevin, which tells the story of one mother's relationship with her son who causes a highschool massacre. This text asks massive questions like to what extent can parents be held responsible for the actions of all of their children? As a parent myself of four little monkeys, I do think, especially in the early years, parents need to accept responsibility. However, as children grow up, especially when they hit adolescence, I am not sure what level of responsibility should be borne by parents or by the children themselves. If anybody could tell me before mine hit the lovely teenage years, that would be great!
Parents need to help their children to learn right from wrong, but at some age, the child has to be held responsible for his or her actions. There are many children in our schools who have behavior issues that impede them from behaving appropriately. We certainly can't blame the parents for the behavior, but we can ensure the parents are part of the plan to help the student make better choices in regards to his or her behavior at school.
I must agree that parents are responsible for their children's actions (with a few loop-holes). Parents, while not required by law, should raise their children with commonly accepted morals. A child who cannot be found responsible for their actions does not mean that they should be able to simply get away with what they did. Someone really needs to be held accountable.
One example that I can think of is student truancy. Parents should be responsible for the child's truancy. As support, some courts are finding in favor of this and parents are being charged for their child's actions.
I believe the parents are responsible for their child's "repeated" misbehavior. If children misbehave, there should be consequences and the parents are responsible for a child receiving consequences. Children expect consequences. Children need boundaries and it is up to the parents to provide limits for their children.
There are innumerable variables involved in answering this question. It depends on the age of the children and the type of action you're talking about, for starters. No, a parent is not responsible for a two year old taking a toy from another child - at that age, the child doesn't understand how to ask for a particular toy. If that two year old is hitting another child and, upon investigation, it becomes known that the child's home situation involves lots of physical abuse, the parent(s) or caregivers quite possibly are responsible for providing a role model that the child has already absorbed into his/her behavior pattern.
I am not a parent, but I work in a place where there are a lot of children and their parents coming through, and in most of the cases where the children behave badly, I see the parents not responding or caring, but instead allowing the behavior. I think that until an age where the child can understand that actions have consequences, it is the reponsibility of the parent to monitor and control the child.