Why Parents Should Be Liable for Their Children's Bullying Essay

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According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, between one-quarter and one-third of all American school children report being bullied in some fashion, with the highest prevalence of bullying occurring during the middle school years (Facts about bullying 2). It is inappropriate to classify every type of aggressive encounter between youths as bullying because young people are undergoing a profoundly transformative period in their lives when experimentation, peer pressure and the search for individual identity assume truly enormous significance. When some types of unwanted aggressive behaviors persist, however, they conform to the definition of bullying provided by the U.S. Department of Education and Centers for Disease Control (Facts about bullying 3) and many of these behaviors are crimes. A growing body of evidence confirms that bullying can have a wide range of adverse effects on both the perpetrator as well as the victim that can extend well into adulthood, and identifying ways to stop bullying in and out of the schools has assumed increasing importance and relevance in recent years as technology has created new ways for young people to bully each other. Therefore, this paper provides a review of the relevant literature to argue that parents should be held responsible to an extent, whether it be financially or legally, for their children who are bullies. An analysis of both sides of this argument is followed by a summary of the research and the rationale in support of holding parents responsible for the children’s bullying behaviors.

Background and overview

Although there is no universally agreed upon or legal definition for bullying, the definition of bullying provided by the U.S. Department of Education and Centers for Disease Control includes three core components as follows: (1) unwanted aggressive behavior; (2) observed or perceived power imbalance; and (3) repetition of behaviors or high likelihood of repetition (Facts about bullying 5). This definition, however, is silent with respect to the intended outcome of such behaviors. For additional clarify, the definition provided by Shaugnessy states that, “Bullying is a conscious, willful, and deliberate hostile activity intended to harm, induce fear through the threat of further aggression, and create terror" (51).

While the prevalence of bullying is highest during the middle school years, bullying can occur sooner and persist long after this period of time. For example, Darden reports that, “Stories abound about students at all grade levels engaging in severe harassing behavior that prompts suicides or inflicts lasting physical or emotional scars” (76). More troubling still, the inordinately high prevalence of bullying has resisted the best efforts by parents, lawmakers, educators and civic organizations across the country.

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In this regard, Darden emphasizes that, “Despite extensive efforts of educators, parents, lawmakers, and society at large, bullying remains a stubborn barnacle clinging to schools. Both the historic face-to-face bullying and the newer cyber variety are relentlessly prevalent” (76).

Besides face-to-face physical or verbal bullying and so-called “cyberbullying” (i.e., bullying behaviors that are committed more than once using some type of communications technology such as cellphones, chat rooms, email, instant messaging, and online posts), there are other types as well including relational bullying that is intended to negatively affect the relationship or reputation of the targeted victims and bullying that involves damage to property (Facts about bullying 5). In addition, face-to-face bullying is classified as direct because it takes place in the presence of the targeted victims as opposed to indirect types of bullying that are not directly communicated to the targeted victims such as individuals spreading malicious rumors or gossip (Facts about bullying 6).

Even indirect bullying can have serious effects on targeted victims, including causing young people to commit suicide. For instance, Darden reports that, “In one of the most high-profile tragedies from social media bullying, a 12-year-old Florida girl took her life by jumping from a tower at an abandoned concrete plant” (76). Moreover, other types of bullying behaviors such as assault, harassment or, as the recent death of a 19-year-old college student at Pennsylvania State University clearly showed, hazing can be classified into various criminal categories, including manslaughter or murder (Isaac 4). Although few right-thinking people would likely argue in favor of holding parents criminally or even financially responsible for one-time physical or verbal altercations between youths, the argument can certainly be made that when such actions rise to the level of criminal behaviors, parents are ultimately response as discussed further below.

Arguments for and against holding parents liable for their children’s bullying behaviors


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Works Cited

Darden, Edwin C. “Courts Join Crackdown on School Bullies: Bullying Has Proven Resistant to School Efforts to End the Practice; Now, the Courts Are Joining the Fight.” 2015, April. Phi Delta Kappan, vol. 96, no. 7, p. 76.

“Facts about bullying.” U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. 2017, https://www.stopbullying.gov/media/facts/index.html.

Issac, Matthew. “Ten additional Penn State students charged in hazing death of pledge.” The New York Times. 2017, November 13. https://www.nytimes.com/2017/11/13/us/penn-state-fraternity-hazing.html.

Shaugnessy, Mary A. “Bullying: Definition and Legal Issues.” 2015, February/March. Momentum, vol. 46, no. 1, pp. 50-54.

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