In the Wisconsin Rapids school district, parents could receive fines for their children’s bullying behavior. This ordinance makes bullying and harassment a legal prohibition. It also protects people who report these actions from those who want payback. But most interestingly, it holds parents or legal guardians accountable for bullying behavior of children under 18 years of age.
In 2019, The council set a penalty of $50 for the first incident of bullying. However, the real price could grow to $313 including court costs. However, despite the hype surrounding this ordinance, it was never implemented. But it raised a vital question: What else could schools and parents be doing to prevent bullying?
School District May Fine Parents of Bullies?
The debate around the original idea to fine parents of bullies became intense. For instance, Steve Koth, a representative for District 5, was in favor of it because the school district needed to find another way to address the problem. “If a governmental body is being asked to pass an ordinance to look at bullying, how many levels have failed? To have a governmental body and the police involved should be the last resort.”
Meanwhile, District 4 representative Tom Rayome had opposed the idea. He wanted more discussion and development of the ordinance, which had been initially suggested by Wisconsin Rapids Public Schools Superintendent Craig Broeren. He wanted to give the school district another tool to counter bullying in addition to counseling, intervention, and mental health services.
One incident of bullying that reignited the discussion of bullying involved a girl receiving handwritten notes from her peers. The notes contained mean names and encouragement for her to end her life. The girl’s mother shared the notes in a post on Facebook that was since shared hundreds of times.
In fact, the ordinance to fine parents of children who bully passed in the town of Grand Rapids and in Plover. There, parents could receive a $124 fine if their kids are bullying others. And the Plover Police Chief Dan Ault stated that the department hadn’t needed to fine anyone for the four years since the ruling passed. They have, however, given a dozen warnings. The ordinance is not meant to send citations to as many parents as possible; it’s meant to raise awareness of the issue.
“It caused a shock factor,” Ault said. “Parents had to pay attention. They have to take it seriously because there’s a penalty. This isn’t the government telling you how to raise your children. It’s the government begging you to raise your children.” 
More Research on Anti-Bullying Practices
As far as making fines part of an anti-bullying initiative, more research is needed to prove its effectiveness. According to Dr. Amanda Nickerson, who directs the Alberti Center for Bullying Abuse Prevention at the University at Buffalo, there’s no proof that a fine would suddenly make parents motivated to correct their children’s behavior.
She instead recommended that meetings with teachers should help parents learn how to encourage good behavior before there’s any penalty. With the ordinance as is, “there’s a lot of steps in between punishment and behavior change in the child that are missing,” Nickerson said. Without these steps, “the parent is probably going to be angered and think that the schools or the courts are being ridiculous or overblown.”
It’s natural for a parent to defend their children when accused of bullying and this could just increase hostilities. This may be part of the reason some anti-bullying policies only backfire. In the case of citation, everyone tries to fight paying fines and getting an incriminating record. Most parents would fight against a bullying citation as well.
Moreover, involving the parent of the bully isn’t always the solution to the problem. In fact, sometimes it could only make matters worse.
Should You Call the Parents of Your Child’s Bully?
Now, in some cases, it is the right move. For instance, if you know personally know the parents of the bully. After all, they’d rather hear about the issue from you than from the school. It also gives them the chance to address the issue before the school district has to intervene.
Additionally, telling the bully’s parents can help them resolve it but you run the risk of them only defending their child. However, presenting the issue without pushing ideas on how they should discipline their kids could be helpful. Plus, it’ll help you feel proactive in ending the bullying.
However, calling the parents is a way of being proactive while not actually helping the situation. In fact, most cases make it worse. More often than not, the parents will get defensive and upset. Plus, talking to them may not resolve the actual bullying at all. It may make the bullying worse. In the worst of cases, the parents may join the bullying, for instance, by spreading rumors about your child to deflect attention from their child’s behavior.
A more effective way of ending bullying is to empower your child to end it themselves. Rushing to rescue them may keep them in victim thinking where they could become bullied again. Instead, teach them assertiveness skills, how to develop healthy friendships, and brainstorm together how to stand up to their bullies. Also, report the bullying to the school district to create a safety plan for your child. And if your child is showing signs of diminishing mental health, have them checked out by a doctor or counselor. 
What do you think? Should parents be fined or should it be left up to them to discipline their children?
- “Wisconsin Rapids City Council supports anti-bullying ordinance, increased fines for repeat offenses.” Wisconsin Rapids Tribune. Melissa Siegler. June 21, 2019
- “Can Wisconsin Get Rid of Bullies by Fining Their Parents?” Psychology Today. Izzy Kalman. June 13, 2019
- “Pros and Cons of Calling the Parents of a Bully.” Very Well Family. Sherri Gordon. September 25, 2020