Will Fining Parents Stop Kids From Bullying?
In an old episode of "The Simpsons", a judge holds Homer responsible for Bart's bad behavior and tethers father and son together as punishment.
Does penalizing parents for a child's behavior work? That's what a community in Wisconsin is hoping. The police in Monona City may now ticket and fine the parents of repeat bullying offenders. Monona Police Chief Wally Ostrenga said the ordinance will be used with discretion and only with parents who are uncooperative with law enforcement.
If we accept the idea that parenting shapes a child's behavior, then it makes sense to hold parents accountable for the child's behavior. This works well with young children--if your toddler breaks it, you pay for it.
Does it work, though, with teenagers? Whenever there is an article about a teenager on a rampage, people ask, "where were the parents?" Some argue, however, that parenting may not matter as much as we would like to think (see The Nurture Assumption). Parents have a responsibility to respond to bullying but can they really control what happens when the child is at school?
When I was in the classroom, there were definitely times when there were clear connection between a student's actions and parenting. Other times, I would see two very different siblings come from the same household--a hardworking, honest child whose sister would cheat, lie, and bully.
Critics of these laws point out that there are a number of social and economic factors outside of parenting that influence teen behavior. Fining parents, they say, will not affect the underlying causes.
This ordinance does give some teeth to law enforcement efforts to curb bullying in the schools. Perhaps it will be effective as part of a larger peer-education and school effort. However, it also puts the state in a position to judge parenting based on a child's actions.
What do you think of holding parents responsible for their children's actions?