Fining Parents Whose Kids Bully

In response to the escalating rates of teen suicide, school shootings and cyber-bullying, Wisconsin has passed an ordinance imposing fines on parents of kids who bully. It’s not a criminal charge. Rather, it’s a civil ordinance which permits a fine of $124 against parents whose kids repeat bullying behavior after being warned of their conduct. The Wisconsin police chief said that he’s in favor of the new ordinance because it puts pressure on the parents, the ones whose job it is to raise the kids. He doesn’t believe it’s the teacher’s obligation to prevent kids from bullying. He explains that teachers’ energy should be limited to the challenging task of teaching our kids.

The way that this ordinance will be enforced is as follows. First, police will identify those kids who have engaged in repeated bullying within a 90 day period. The parents will be notified and asked to work with law enforcement to correct the behavior. If the bullying persists, then their parents may be fined.

The analogy made by the police chief is that it’s like if a kid breaks something, their parent would be held responsible for it. He wants to see parents taking responsibility for their kid’s behavior. School principals seem to be embracing the ordinance.

At first I was opposed to this idea. While I recognize the need to do something to stop the proliferation of bullying in schools, I’m concerned about punishing simple kid behavior. In other words, I don’t want little Johnny and/or his parents punished because Little Johnny calls another schoolmate “fat.” The portion of kids’ brains governing judgment and reasoning, the frontal lobe, hasn’t been fully formed yet. That’s why kids often say and do stupid things. It comes down to how the term “bullying” is defined. If law enforcement can identify those students who are engaged in the worst, most damaging repeat behavior, coupled with parents who refuse to address the issue, then the ordinance should have merit.