Should parents of bullies be fined?

There’s a bullying epidemic invading every corner of the U.S.  Wherever you turn, it seems you hear another story about a child being subjected to the spread of vicious stories over social media, or physical and emotional abuse that has taken place in school.    

The saddest stories of all are the ones where the victim is driven to suicide. This is devastating our kids, and we need to do something to stop it. But what?

Several towns in Wisconsin think they may have the answer. Shawano, a town of 9,300 people near Green Bay, is the latest in that State to pass an ordinance holding parents of bullies accountable. Parents could be fined $366 for the first offense and $681 for the second offense in a year.

Sounds like it might be a good answer to the problem.  If parents aren’t self-motivated to monitor their kids’ behavior, hit them where it hurts— in the pocketbook.

“The threat of a fine is a necessary evil.  It’s a consequence for those who say they don’t want to help fix the problem,” Shawano Police Chief Mark Kohl explained. 

“These ordinances allows authorities to say that bullying isn’t just wrong, it’s against the law,” states Plover Police Chief Dan Ault whose town in central Wisconsin, enacted the fines last fall. “

While the Wisconsin bullying laws have generated lots of national and international attention, the concept is not new. Several states, including Pennsylvania, have laws that allow authorities to fine and in some cases imprison parents of children who are habitually truant.

But do the laws work?

We can have all the laws we want holding parents responsible for their children’s actions, but do they really make a difference?  “Very little research has been done to determine the effectiveness of laws that hold parents criminally liable”, says Eve Brank, an associate professor of law and psychology at the University of Nebraska, Lincoln.  “It's often just a way for politicians to look hard on juvenile delinquency," she says.

Maybe it’s not the laws that aren’t working. Maybe it’s the punishment.

The very first rule of healthy discipline is that consequences for an infraction be logical.

If parents have children who are bullies, paying a fine isn’t a logical consequence. It’s really just an attempt at a quick fix, an easy way out from a very difficult problem, and it certainly doesn’t provide long lasting solutions.

In some situations, fining parents could possibly cause even more problems. Bullies aren’t created out of thin air. In many cases, children who are bullies have parents who are abusive. Fining these parents could cause them to become enraged, and who would be the object of that rage? Their children.

Does this mean the Wisconsin laws are bad? I don’t think so. I think it’s the consequence that need to be changed.

Instead of requiring parents to just write a check, parents should be required to take parenting classes. Not a one-time session, but a series of classes.

Bullying is an insidious problem with deep and often generational roots. Parents need to become more aware of their own behaviors, and given the skills and knowledge necessary to help them and their children. These skills could help them become more empathic and show them ways to express both negative and positive emotions in non-destructive ways.

The authorities in Wisconsin deserve credit for trying to do something to stop bullying.

Holding parents accountable is just common sense,” said Chief Ault. “Schools across the country have launched campaigns to prevent bullying, and that’s good, but there’s more that has to be done, especially when the bullying occurs off school grounds.”

What better place to start than at home? 

For more information please see the following:

NPR: Should Parents Be Legally Responsible For Children's Serious Crimes?

Good Housekeeping: Wisconsin Town Will Fine Parents of Bullies $366

Psychology Today: Parents Held Liable for Kid's Cyberbullying


 

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