Should parents be punished for their children's bullying crimes? One New York student thinks so. She's taking her aggressors and their parents to court, and she's not the only one who favors such action.
Caitlin Rocco, a senior at Scholars Academy in Rockaway Beach, told New York's CBS2 that she has been "tormented" for years by classmates. And while she said she's "counting the days until graduation," she doesn't plan to leave high school without fighting back. She and her mother are preparing a lawsuit against her bullies and their parents.
"I think parents can do their part by raising children who understand that there are all different kinds of people and it is in no way acceptable to bully any kind of person for any reason," the resilient student told CBS2.
According to figures from the National Center of Education Statistics, almost one-third of students report being bullied in school. A new study from the Justice Policy Center's Urban Institute found that 17 percent of youths had been cyberbullied in the past year.
Taking lawmakers, schools and parents to task for this rampant problem, HuffPost blogger Steve Siebold writes: "They need to stop denying the problem and closing their doors, and start acting like leaders. Parents need to be more involved with their children, and stop bullying in its tracks. If not, parents need to be held accountable, too."
Some legal minds also want to punish parents whose children become involved in cyberbullying. Last month, Florida-based legal advocacy group Justice Outreach proposed a bill called "Bullying, Cyberbully, and Harassment -- Parental Responsibility," which would legally define both bullying and cyberbullying and would hold parents of bullies and bullying victims accountable if they fail to supervise their children.
While the legal culpability in bullying cases is still up for debate, there are many resources to help parents recognize warning signs that their child might be engaging in bullying behavior. Stopbullying.gov notes that children may be bullying others if they "are increasingly aggressive," "blame others for their problems" and "are competitive and worry about their reputation or popularity."
So what's a concerned parent to do? The National Crime Prevention Council outlines a whole range of steps for parents who think their children might be bullying. The council cautions against treating the behavior like a passing phase and recommends contacting teachers or school counselors.
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DO: Tell Them They Are Not Alone
Bullying can be an incredibly isolating experience, and many victims feel that they are alone–that something about them, specifically, has brought this on. Explain to your child that bullying is something that can happen to anyone: boys, girls, preschoolers, high schoolers, kids at large schools and kids at small schools. This means there is a large group of people impacted by bullying, and if we all work together, we can certainly make a difference.
DON'T: Suggest They "Just Ignore It"
A common reaction to bullying is encouraging the victim to ignore the bully. "They just want a reaction," people say, and if you deny them the reaction, they'll go away. That's not always the case. Sometimes, when the bully realizes they are being ignored, they can feel a sense of power over their victim that can actually make the situation worse.
DO: Check In Regularly
Asking your child basic questions about their day and their experience at school can help you catch a problem sooner. Ask how a specific class was, or who they sat with at lunch. Ask who is trying out for the team, or who is going to local fair that weekend. These harmless questions tell your child that you care, but they can also help you detect changes in your child's situation that may indicate a bullying problem.
DON'T: Suggest Your Child Stand Up To The Bully
While helping your child prepare a speech or enrolling them in self-defense courses might seem like an empowering solution, you're sending the message to your child that this problem is theirs, and that they have to handle it alone. Instead, discuss what some solutions might be and involve your child in the decision making process.
DO: Set Boundaries Online
The National Crime Prevention Council reports that 20 to 43 percent of middle and high school school students have reported being victims of cyber bullying. Encourage your child to protect themselves by following these two guidelines: 1. Never say or do anything online that you wouldn't say or do in person. 2. Never share any information that you wouldn't tell a stranger.
DON'T: Express Disbelief
While we'd like to think we know everything about our children and their friends, don't express disbelief if they say someone has done something that shocks you. Your child needs to know that they can trust you. Asking them to provide evidence or saying that someone "would never do that" can come across as you taking the side of someone other than your child. Instead, be as supportive as possible and listen to their side.
DO: Encourage Them To Speak Up
A recent study of children ages 9 to 12, showed that 56 percent said that they usually either say or do something to try to stop bullying or tell someone who can help (Brown, Birch, & Kancherla, 2005). Make sure your child knows who he or she can talk to if they have something they want to share, whether that is you, a school counselor, a teacher or a coach.
DO: Discourage Password Sharing
Explain the importance of keeping online passwords private, even from close friends. Your child may be thinking that sharing a password with a close friend is harmless and convenient, but explain that anyone with their password could impersonate them online and embarrass them. If they insist that the friend would never do that, remind them that the friend could share their password, either intentionally or unintentionally, and someone else would have that same power.
DON'T: Take Matters Entirely Into Your Own Hands
While your first reaction may be to protect your child by calling the parent of the bully or confront the child yourself, this is not always a good solution. Not only is this this rarely effective, it may even prove fodder for additional bullying. Your child wants to feel empowered and involved in the solution, so discuss options with him or her and work together to decide on a plan of action.
DO: Be Patient
Your child may be embarrassed or afraid to talk about what is happening to them. This is normal. Rather than pressuring your child into speaking before they are ready, just make it clear that you are willing to listen and be a source of support for them. Once they feel comfortable, they will know that they can open up to you and seek your advice. Better yet, if you've had this conversation preemptively, before a problem arises, your child will know right away that you can be their partner in finding a solution.
DO: Find Resources Online
Green Giant's <a href="https://www.raiseagiant.com/" target="_blank">Raise A Giant site</a> includes a page that lets you read letters other parents have written to empower their children. You can write your own letter and explore their other resources, including videos and sharable infographics. PACER's National Bullying Prevention Center site also has <a href="http://www.pacer.org/bullying/resources/" target="_blank">a page</a> with resources like informational handouts, fact sheets, educational toolkits, and the "<a href="http://www.pacer.org/bullying/wewillgen/" target="_blank">We Will Generation</a>." You can also browse <a href="http://www.pacer.org/bullying/video/" target="_blank">the video page</a> to see if some of their video resources would be helpful for you or for your child. Green Giant's <a href="https://www.raiseagiant.com/" target="_blank">Raise A Giant site</a> includes a page that lets you write a letter to empower your child, but you can also read the letters other parents have written to inspire your talks with your child.