This Wisconsin Town Will Start Fining Parents of Bullies, But Is That Really the Answer?

Image Source: Thinkstock
Image Source: Thinkstock

A new law in a small Wisconsin town is taking a unique approach to bullying. According to WFRV, law enforcement of the city of Shawano, along with the local school district, will work together to combat bullying with financial penalties to the parents when bullying occurs.

Those parents “will then have 90 days after they’re informed by police of their child’s behavior to intervene, and put a stop to it. If the bullying continues, parent(s) to be fined $366. If there is a second offense within one year, the parent(s) will be fined $681.”

The issue of bullying is a ticking time bomb of emotion for parents and children alike. As a parent, I fear my child being bullied as much as my child bullying others. Would I know? Have I done enough to teach them how to respect and treat others? Have I spent the time it takes to teach values, communication, relationship building, respect, and human dignity?

We’ve all been there before — adolescence — struggling to find our way. The intent of this law may be to make parents more involved and accountable, but if we only hold the parent responsible, what lesson does that teach our children?

Society at large assumes all parents actually understand how to deal with their child’s conduct when there is a problem. But what resources are available to parents who may not know how to talk to their kids? To teach them how to recognize and address behavioral issues before they morph into something larger? To determine if they are acting out in reaction to something going on in their lives (trauma, abuse, neglect) or if it’s indicative of a larger problem (mental illness, developmental issues, learning disabilities). If parents are fined because of the act itself, how does that address prevention?

What happens when parents can’t or won’t pay? Will they go to jail, leaving the child with an absent parent and unstable household? For this, I enlisted the help of an expert in child welfare, Ashley Andersen, who has spent years working in child protective services.

According to Andersen:

“How this punishment impacts families will differ drastically depending on economic status. An upper class family may not necessarily feel the impact while a less financially stable family may lose their housing or not have enough money to feed their kids. This will only increase the stress in the household and potentially cause a situation where the child becomes the target for lashing out (emotionally and/or physically). For families that aren’t in the position to be able to manage their stress well, this law could dramatically impact a child’s home life.”

This law cuts to the heart of intent. Parents who sit back (and in horrific cases encourage the behavior) while their child causes severe pain, trauma, and sometimes irreversible damage to another child MUST be addressed. But a financial penalty feels like a band-aid solution, one that could potentially cause more damage than good.

We live in a world where our initial reaction is to punish, by fine, jail time, even public shaming, but as Andersen points out, “Research strongly suggests solutions to these societal problems do not, in fact, solve anything. More times than not they create more chaos than the original problem itself.”

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