Philosophically Speaking: What is Accountability and Responsibility?

What is Accountability and Responsibility, and where does it all begin? How do people in the postmodern world relate to these two essential concepts of human development? When we think of responsibility, we rarely consider the higher order of accountability, and so we often misunderstand the two different concepts. The focus of this article is parent’s primary accountability and responsibility for the welfare of children. The roots of all forms of accountabilities and responsibilities begin with parents and child.

The Creator in His infinite wisdom knew that the instruction of children would be vital to the stability of the ultimate determinant of the religious, social, and economic security of individuals, families, communities, and nations. Parenting is the most common example in society in which authority figures exercise accountability and responsibility. Parents are accountable to God (Proverbs 22:6) for the upbringing of their children. Likewise, they are responsible for training their children and for the outcomes of their children’s behavior until they reach adulthood. Scientific investigations have shown the benefits of spirituality to young people during their early stages of development. (The Spiritual Child, Miller, Lisa 2015).

The home is the first society of ‘altruistic love,’ and parents’ exemplary guidance is the most important part of the child’s preparation process. Parents institute by their actions the whole idea of guidance, which involves their foundational development, spiritual, moral, social, intellectual, and physical. Often intuitively, from the moment the newborn child arrives in the home, parents begin to prepare him or her to leave home to form a separate family relationship, and their relationship with the outside world.

Parents, churches, the education system, the judicial system, and society seek to understand who is responsible for children’s behavior. The demarcation line between accountability and responsibility for child and youth behavior is often a complicated matter for the judiciary in the postmodern age. Some individuals may bring the influence of the society into the picture, but one can also argue that the parent’s role is to help the child to understand and make reasoned and informed judgments to guide his or her their actions.

If the child does not learn to follow the guidance of his or her parents, he or she will not learn to obey societal authority. Are children and youths accountable and responsible for their behavior? The answer to this question might seem rather clear, based on chronology; yet, researchers, childhood development experts, and the judicial system continue to search for the appropriate scientific, social, or legal response to youth behavior. Some literature put forward the beginning of this period at twelve years when children assume some level of responsibility for their reasoning, but chronological age is not the only factor.

The child’s maturity also plays a part in demonstrating his or her readiness for responsibility. It is implicit in raising children that there are levels of accountability and responsibility, which parents and children must observe. In some jurisdictions, parents are accountable for the behavior of children until they reach the age of sixteen years of age. Parents also assume other forms of accountability until children reach the age of eighteen years, with additional responsibilities, until the youths reach twenty–four to twenty–six years of age. This is typical during the period of fulltime attendance at college or university.

Parents, therefore, have perhaps eighteen years in which to instill knowledge, wisdom, and understanding to enable the child to live a fulfilling life that honors God and gives service to humanity. Obedience is the most important word for children to understand, and it equates to children’s responsibility. It is the beginning of the journey from responsibility to accountability. Children are the seeds of society. In fact, the nurturing of these seeds is critical in the early stages of childhood development. The child who has not learned to obey his or her parents is like a seed that does not develop well or produce wholesome fruit.

“…It is especially important that parents give children a good start, but it’s also important for parents to recognize that kids come into the world with their temperaments, and it is the parents’ job to provide an interface with the world that eventually prepares a child for complete independence. In a rapidly changing world, parenting seems subject to fads and changing styles, and parenting in some ways has become a competitive sport. But the needs of child development as delineated by science remain relatively stable…” (

No one will deny that adult decisions have an impact on the challenges and responses of children in society. From the media to politics, to education, to religion, to healthcare, to the management of corporations, adults dictate most, if not every aspect, of the lives of children and youth. Observing the parent-child relationship will reveal an interesting correlation between the behavior of children and their role models (parent, family members, or members of the more significant society). Children strive to mirror the great exploits of their role models.

Children and teenagers witness the miss-deeds by some public and private figures who demonstrate less than high integrity in their public and private affairs. Impressionable children and youths inadvertently learn to accept less than high–integrity behavior as the norm, and this expectation consciously and subconsciously forms part of the child’s psyche and intellectual development. The news media reports that there are many problems facing youths. They point to smoking and drinking, and the forming of intimate relationships at an early age. Parents tell us that youths are unprepared for the critical responsibility of romantic relationships, marriage, and the raising of children.

The lack of preparation, such as educational achievement and insufficient finances, can result in marital stress, and breakdown of marriage relationships. Some members of society point to child rearing in a single–parent environment as being a significant contributor to these problems. Some point to weaknesses in their spiritual, moral, social, and intellectual upbringing. Others claim that children and youths attempt to mirror the ‘materially driven’ lifestyles and the acquisition of wealth and power as the overriding necessities for a good life. How can society begin to understand or adequately address the problems of our youth?

Perhaps people need first to address accountability and responsibility among some adults who are struggling to understand and to cope with the relentless material demands of the postmodern age. The struggles among youths mirror the struggles of adults. They are not unique to single-parent homes, as some would speculate. Regardless of family composition, all families experience the pervasive influence of ‘materially driven lifestyles,’ fueled by the need for bigger, better, and more expensive things.


Traditional institutions once operated on principles of accountability and responsibility as religious imperatives. Religious organizations founded the early schools where learning meant that religious instruction was an integral part of the school curriculum. Educational institutions once had a responsibility much beyond academic information literacy. They had an obligation to shape and develop moral character in the lives of their students.

The shift to new models of materially based education, with jobs, careers, and incomes as first imperatives of learning, fostered new, scientific approaches to teaching and learning. This new model spawned a new era of technological advancement and material progress as the first obligations of progressive nations. There is a need to shift to a new benchmark of religious principles and values regarding accountabilities and responsibilities toward each other.

The institutions of human beings (marriage, family, government, politics, education, religion, and business) have intrinsic links to all human endeavors. When we recognize this fact, and the responsibility of working together, it will begin to influence the full scope of human development (spiritual, moral, social, intellectual, and physical). We can then engender a better world — the kind of world in which accountabilities and responsibilities become paramount in the minds of parent and child alike.

Peace and harmony in the emerging global village demand great accountability and responsibility for fellow human beings. A practical saying, “We who are strong ought to bear with the failings of the weak and not to please ourselves” (Romans 15:1), has deep meaning for all forms of weaknesses in children and adults. This saying has a profound purpose, and it flows from the heart. It transcends all visible differences in color, race, and culture. Likewise, it transcends all distinctions in social and economic class, nationality, and religion. Every great nation rests upon the bedrock of this great saying.

Our responsibility to God and neighbor (Mark 12:32) given for the unity of the human family then becomes the first obligation of human existence. Therefore, we must preoccupy ourselves, and imbue our minds with the pursuit of our accountability and responsibility to God, family, community, and nation, but it must begin with children. We must grow beyond the divisions between parents and children, husband and wife, and among family members, friends, neighbors, societies, nations, and most importantly, the division between God and humankind.


In 2002, Errol Gibbs relinquished his technical career to research, study, and write about the betterment of humanity, enabled by spiritual, moral, social, intellectual, and physical growth and development. Errol hopes that this article will shed light on another path that will better inform the mutual survival of humankind as a viable species.


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