The Gazette Editorial Board
Bullying among children and teens was in the spotlight again this week, as more than 1,000 people attended the state’s first bullying summit.
Summit speakers were right to call on students, parents and teachers to stand up against bullying. It will take the commitment and investment of all those groups to change this dangerous trend.
But we’re wary of suggestions that parents should be held criminally liable for their child’s bullying behavior.
We don’t see much value in legislation that would seek to punish parents whose children bully their peers.
Rep. Chris Hall, D-Sioux City, introduced the idea in the legislature last spring.
Under his legislation, if bullying continues after school officials try to work with parents to stop harassment, the school would be able to bring the parents to mediation through the county attorney’s office.
If the parents fail to carry out the mediation agreement, they would face the same penalties outlined in state truancy law — up to and including jail time.
That means parents could be ordered to serve up to 40 community service hours, pay up to a $100 fine or serve as many as 10 days in jail for a first offense. The penalties would get tougher from there.
Hall has said the legislation was inspired by a constituent who told him her daughter was being bullied, but the bully’s parents seemed unconcerned about what their child was doing. He has pledged to bring it up again this session.
We agree that parents have an important role to play in combating bullying, but Hall’s idea seems extreme.
And it doesn’t address the fact that the overwhelming majority of bullying cases don’t come to adults’ attention.
There still are widespread misperceptions about what bullying is and how it is affecting our children — still too many who would argue, in ignorance, that bullied kids need to “toughen up”.
What we need are comprehensive efforts to educate communities and change the school and peer cultures in which bullying thrives.
Rather than aiming punitive measures at parents, we’d like to see more positive, proactive efforts to eradicate bullying.
Events such as this week’s summit will go much farther toward addressing the problem than fines and jail time ever will.
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