JayMac: Fining the parent won’t stop school bullying (and might make things worse)

Jun 11, 2019, 9:07 AM
Ohio girl punished for bullying on the bus...
An Ohio father forced his daughter to walk to school after she was suspended from the bus for bullying. (Matt Cox / Facebook)
(Matt Cox / Facebook)

DISCLAIMER: the following is an opinion piece and does not necessarily reflect the views of KSL Newsradio or its ownership.

Can fining parents stop their kids from bullying other students? Here are some examples:

Parents of children found bullying other minors could face jail time under a new law approved in North Tonawanda, just north of Buffalo, N.Y.

Members of the North Tonawanda Common Council hope the new law stops bullying by holding parents accountable for their children’s actions.

Parents could be fined $250 and sentenced to 15 days in jail if twice in a 90-day period their child under 18 violates the city’s curfew or another city law, including bullying.

Could this work? I have my doubts. Here’s another example:

Maryland lawmakers are considering legislation that would fine some parents $1,000 for a misbehaving school-aged child.

An assault on a Loch Raven High School (Baltimore County) teacher by a student is adding urgency to pass legislation holding parents more accountable for their child’s behavior.

The bill that would fine a parent or guardian of a child $1,000 who gets into trouble at school four times.

And again:

A lawmaker from Pennsylvania says he wants to crack down on bullying by punishing parents for their child’s bad behavior.

State Rep. Frank Burns plans legislation that would require parents to pay up to $750 if their child is a habitual bully and require school officials to notify parents each time their child bullies another student.

Bullying is a big problem

A 2011 survey of more than 24 million children ages 12 to 18 found that nearly 28 percent of students — or about 6.8 million kids — reported being bullied, according to the National Center for Education Statistics.

I was bullied for showing off too much at San Miguel Elementary School in San Jose, Calif. I remember the full name of the bully who started punching and kicking me for jumping farther off the swing than anybody else on the playground. I remember the full name of another bully who just started hitting and kicking me.

I grew up in a tough neighborhood. But I never told anyone, parents or teachers or principals. To this day, I still wonder why I never said anything about it.

But what seems like the perfect solution, fining the parents for their bully-child, may actually make the problem worse.

What causes bullying?

I did some research and found that most bullies have parents who bully them. But now Dad is fined because his kid is a school bully. Facing a fine, does he magically become the Good Parent? Does he check himself into counseling?  Not likely. More likely is that junior gets beaten even more for subjecting Dad to a fine. Maybe the parent takes the matter into her own hands.

For example:

Frustrated by what she believed was bullying of her third-grade son, Jamie Rathburn entered Greenbrier Elementary School in South Carolina and emotionally confronted his classmates.

She left the scene but was arrested three days later, charged with disturbing schools and booked into a detention center before being released on bond, according to police.

Rathburn regrets her actions but remains concerned about bullying of her son and other children, she said.

I wanted to do that. Do we want to say: We DID something or we CHANGED something, like creating a new policy or program that stopped the bullying atmosphere at school?

Bullying is just a symptom

Bullying is a symptom of a much bigger problem. Bullies also can suffer from autism, anger-management problems, or attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).  Perhaps the bully-child, who is probably a victim himself, needs some level of understanding and recognition of what created the bullying inside him or her. How does fining the parent solve this problem? Maybe the parents need counseling.

Also, some parenting styles or early trauma, which can impair social and mental development, can contribute to creating the school bully. How about reaching out and asking the bully?

Oh, what a fool I was

I have my own example of trying to hold a child accountable for unacceptable school behavior. My child was cutting class and struggling in high school. I thought, “I can handle this, I’m the parent.”

I’m yelling and punishing him, trying everything in the parental resource manual, but the result was major drag-out battles: Our only interaction with this kid.

We tried bribery, but nothing worked, so we took this child to a counselor, who, after a lot of study, discovered he had a heightened sensitivity to bright lights and loud noises.

How am I going to punish or yell him out of that? High school is saturated with loud noises and bright lights.

This discovery was a miracle. So, no longer was I the enforcer, but a helper, a coach, an adviser. This set me free to find more sympathetic solutions. And now our relationship is a treasure.

Jay Mcfarland hosts the JayMac News Show, weekdays from 12:30 to 3 p.m. on KSL Newsradio, as well as the fictional podcast, Hosts of Eden. KSL Newsradio is part of Bonneville Media and based in Salt Lake City, Utah.

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JayMac: Fining the parent won’t stop school bullying (and might make things worse)