This New Anti-Bullying Law Is a Disaster for Parents, Bullies, and Victims

There’s been so much talk about bullying that I don’t even know what bullying is anymore. Is it being mean, ridiculing, teasing… or something worse? Is it violence? Does a one-time fist fight count? And who gets to decide?

Don’t get me wrong, I have no interest in making light of violence or abuse towards anyone. It’s never ok.

But I do find new laws that fine or jail parents of bullies downright irresponsible. In fact, I’m completely shocked that parents around the country aren’t rallying up against it.

Are the Parents to Blame?

Sure, I get it. You’re looking at the situation through the victim’s eyes… because your child could never be the bully, right? Your child has been parented properly and you’ve instilled all the right values and ethics from the get-go. They wouldn’t break any rules. They’ll always choose right from wrong. They know the limits.

So you think the law is there to protect you.

Really? Let’s be honest for a moment. Think back to the terrible two’s. Those moments when you couldn’t control a toddler. Remember the homework battles when no amount of reasoning could help. Consider each and every conflict you’ve ever had – those “I hate you’s” and the “you’re not the boss of me’s.” And then think forward to all the ways your child will continue to draw a line in the sand, letting you know they are their own person, independent of you… making mistakes along the way.

You are a parent. But you’re not your child’s overlord. You provide guidance and values and ethics, sure. But you don’t own a remote control. Remember: “You’re not the boss of me!”

So what happens if you suddenly find yourself on the other side of the table?

Your Kids Can Get Away With It, Not You

As any good parent knows, bad behavior needs to have consequences – which is exactly what’s wrong with these laws.

In case you’re not familiar with them, one of the most recent laws that punishes parents was passed in North Tonawanda, N.Y. and threatens parents with up to 15 days of jail time, a $250 fine or both if their child is found to have bullied or attacked another student. On top of that, city attorneys included a clause that shifts the harsher burden of proof to defendants in cases where children are accused of two violations in a 90-day period that essentially reverses the "innocent-until-proven-guilty" into a "guilty-until-proven-innocent scenario" for the defendant, according to legal analyst and attorney Paul Cambria.

Supporters of the law like Victoria Crago, who formed the 400-strong Facebook group North Tonawanda Coalition for Safe Schools and Streets after her son suffered a black eye from an attack off school grounds, believe that it makes sense to punish parents for their children’s bullying behavior because “teens have figured out that they can get away with it.”

And that’s where the total breakdown in logic comes happens: If teens felt like “they can get away with it” before, well then this new law completely validates that line of thinking. It essentially says, “If you are found to be a repeat offender of bullying, you will not be punished… but your parents will be.” It obliterates any sense of consequences for the bully. Fining and / or jailing their parents basically clears them of responsibility for their own actions and shift the blame onto someone else.

If these kids are really so unscrupulous, immoral, and depraved as we ought to believe, how will punishing their parents do anything to curb their bullying behavior? Will they suddenly stop bullying because their parents will get into trouble? And do we seriously think it makes sense to hold one person accountable for another’s actions?

That’s Not All; There’s Too Much Ambiguity

If you still think you’re in the clear, let’s get back to what bullying actually is. The legal definition states:

Bullying is generally defined as an intentional act that causes harm to others, and may involve verbal harassment, verbal or non-verbal threats, physical assault, stalking, or other methods of coercion such as manipulation, blackmail, or extortion. It is aggressive behavior that intends to hurt, threaten or frighten another person.

Unfortunately, there’s so much room for interpretation in that definition, especially since a lot of what constitutes bullying depends on “intention” and also on “harm.”

If we’re talking about a situation where one child punches another, then ok, intention and harm are more clear. But what if your child forwards a picture that was sent to them, or plays a role in spreading a rumor, posts a comment that someone else finds harmful or a shares a video their classmate considers embarrassing, and so on? Intention and harm get a lot more fuzzy then, don’t they?

And what if something like that happens twice in a 90-day period? Then you’re suddenly a parent of a bully. So good luck, mom and dad, in getting out of this one because your child will be seen as guilty until proven innocent. The harsher burden of proof lies on the defendant, remember?

How Does Punishing ‘Bad Parents’ Help?

Now, let’s remove you from this whole bullying scenario. You’re one of the lucky ones. Your children never cross the line. Let’s look at the real ‘bad kids’. Most anti-bullying organizations have identified several factors at home that most often lead to bullying. Those include:

  • Parents that dole out severe physical punishments
  • Lack of parental involvement
  • Lack of parental knowledge about positive ways to deal with problems

It’s commonly said that bullying starts at home. Bullies often come from households where parents are overbearing, controlling, and aggressive. Let’s assume that all of this is true for a moment. Bullies never come from good homes with proper parents. They always come from households where violent and aggressive parents role model terrible behavior. Then these new laws make sense, right?

But if we’re going to fine or jail a parent who must be a bully themselves, what do we hope will happen? They’ve paid the fine or they went to jail, and then what? Will we be happy when they then turn around and whip out their belt to teach their kid a lesson? Do we want the punishment that was given to the parent to somehow trickle down to the child in a form that’s going to make the child harder and even more aggressive?

So Should We Punish the Kids?

Well, blame goes where fault lies. If a child commits an act that’s seriously violent or abusive, of course, they should face consequences. Like it or not, children do have their own wills, impulses, and actions. A child should own their behavior and deal with reasonable consequences. But that doesn’t mean we have to ship everyone off to juvie either.

There’s a reason why the law has designated a certain demographic as minors. Clearly, they’re not considered to have the mental and emotional maturity for some types of decision-making. The more psychologists and neurologists study the teen brain, the more evidence they find linking misbehaviors like impulsivity and poor judgment to biological factors

So should kids get a pass just because they’re kids? Not at all. That’s just as bad as shifting the responsibility onto someone else. But we should call things for what they are and treat them as such. Murder is murder. Assault is assault. And bullying is bullying. There are distinctions and each behavior should be treated with an appropriate consequence.

I don’t mean to underplay the harm true bullying can do. The old saying “sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me” isn’t always true. Verbal abuse and other forms of bullying can cut to the core and demean, degrade, and destroy a person’s sense of self.

But if we believe that bullies are created because of a failure in parenting and a lack of positive role models, then isn’t the solution to right that wrong with education and guidance? How can we expect, as a society, for our children to make good decisions and exhibit good judgment if we’re not willing to?

How do you feel about these newer laws that punish parents for their children’s bullying?

Tags : parenting   bullying