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K. Lindsay Rakers
K. Lindsay Rakers
Attorney • (314) 588-8500

Should Parents of Bullies be Held Accountable?

6 comments

13 million kids will be bullied in the U.S. this year.

Although bullying is not a new phenomenon, it is becoming a disturbing trend. More and more stories about bullying are coming forward and more lawsuits are being filed against school boards and school systems regarding the injuries and deaths of students.

The criminal prosecution, of six teens, and charges including civil rights violations and statutory rape charges, followed the suicide of Phoebe Prince. Stricter anti-bullying legislation was enacted in Massachusetts following her tragic death.

Bullying is never okay but what is sadder is when the bullying is done by a parent or a teacher. Sadly, these instances are becoming increasingly more popular as well. Case in point is the ongoing situation in Washington State. The parents of a teen want his teacher fired after the student was allegedly terrorized in a bullying attack by his peers, but also by the teacher. The incident involved a dozen or more students dragging the boy around the classroom by his arms and writing on his feet after stuffing his socks in his mouth. The teacher allegedly watched and at some points joined in by poking the child in the stomach and making rude remarks.

Bullying can affect anyone. We sometimes hold parents accountable for their child’s actions when people are injured – homeowner’s policies cover the child actions, car insurance policies cover the child’s actions and so on. But the question then becomes, why aren’t parents being held accountable for failing to properly parent their children?

State Laws

Criminal and tort laws are governed by states; therefore you must look to your states legislation to determine the parents’ legal responsibilities regarding their child’s behavior.

According to Love Our Children USA, while state laws greatly vary, 47 states have some sort of parent liability law. In these states, the parents may be held responsible for negligent and/or intentional acts as well as for crimes committed by their children.

The question by many is, “Don’t I have to be neglectful or abusive to be responsible for my child’s irresponsibility?” The answer is no. Your responsibility, in the parent-child relationship, is the expectation that you hold some control over your child and are the first line of defense.

Some states place a cap on damages in civil suits against the parents, while some don’t. In some instances, cases have been brought against the parents of alleged bullies based on claims of intentional inflection of emotional distress under the homeowner’s insurance policies. Negligent supervision can also be another cause of action. However, parental responsibility may extend beyond monetary damages and into criminal liability depending on the extent of the bullying. In some states parents can be held responsible to pay juvenile court fees and even partake in community service themselves for acts their children have committed.

What Can Parents Do To Prevent Bullying?

Most importantly, parents must communicate with their kids and let them know they are there for them.

Telling children to fight back is NOT the answer. It’s condoning violent behavior. It’s also not a good idea to bring the victim and bully together in the same room. What parents should do is intervene and teach kids and bullies to change their behavior.

Bullying in any fashion is not okay. Watch the trailer to the documentary called “Bully” about the bullying epidemic in America. The film was rated “R”, which means it can’t be shown in schools. It just takes a second to sign the petition.

Lindsay Rakers, O'Fallon accident injury attorney, "a big voice for the little guy"

6 Comments

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  1. anon says:
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    Very good article about an issue that the mainstream press doesn’t write much about, parental liability in bullying cases.

    It would be great to see a similar article about school liability, as that was a back issue in the Phoebe Prince case which probably drove subsequent legislation probably much more than parental liability — if only because the taxpayer’s pockets are much deeper than almost any parents’ — even when multiple offenders are alleged as were involved in the Prince case.

    A short answer to this is yes, parents of bullies who engage in especially egregious cases of bullying should be liable, at least in practice they certainly become liable because it’s difficult to imagine suing or jailing or otherwise legally sanctioning a minor without impacting their family, and parents, somehow. Of course this may mean that relatively innocent parties — like most parents, I suppose — may be overly impacted, but if we can’t enforce civil or criminal sanctions against minors in cases like this, what are we left with? Detention? Take away their participation in sports?

    Somehow that doesn’t seem fair, or even likely — it’s more likely that the accused students would just quietly transfer to another school, which was what was apparently happening in the Prince case after Phoebe’s suicide, until the Cullen at the Boston Globe wrote a column on the case and a prosecutor began an investigation leading to charges might be filed in the case.

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    Thanks for taking time to respond to the post. I obviously agree with everything you have said above. And I agree, there has to be more coverage regarding the liability at the schools. As a child of two educators, I surely have trouble blaming a teacher for the violent acts of a child who simply isn’t being taught right from wrong at home. Of course, every situation presents a unique set of facts. Thanks again.

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    Great article, Lindsay. Thanks for the link to Love Our Children USA, I spent some time looking at the website – its a really great resource and impressive organization.

  4. A Mom says:
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    Thanks for the article. I think I’ve become obsessed with this subject. My child was bullied by a child that we know. This child is really an isolated child herself. I found out that her mother trying to help her child using me to encourage the friendship between them since we are neighbors and they went to the same school. She would offer to help me as a single parent. It was nice having a friend. This child threatened my child physically and emotionally and I didn’t believe it. But, it was finally confirmed by a parent and teacher it was shocking.

    The child threatened to kill my child in graphic details and though the teacher tried to protect the other child, the principal told me in graphic details of the threat. I didn’t know was this behavior that the school and family knew about this behavior. It was recently communicated to me she acts out in this manner towards her younger sibling. The parents knew and the school knew. My child went from an A/B student to C student. She started acting out and strangely in class not wanting to be in school; always crying and depressed. I later found out this was not unusual for a 9 y.o. dealing with stress like this. Especially, when a Mom could not believe children this young would do or say things like this and she was a friend’s child, too.

    My child didn’t manage the stress well other children started bully not with the same intensity; but, I think it was they didn’t want to get on the other child’s hit list. However, one child stood up and that’s when it was clear that the threats were scary and real. The child was punished; no recess, silent lunch and parents spoken to but she’s still at the school. I also found out this happened before and I was not informed. Unbelievable.

    We are better now, my daughter moved to a new school but the cost and stress has cause financial challenges and a need for therapy which we are both receiving. I heard the Mom was upset because I didn’t and really couldn’t speak with her. I never communicated with her after threats were confirmed. I was told her daughter’s in therapy 3 times a week. So I made the mistake of reaching out to her to tell her I just couldn’t speak about it when I found out what was going on. She in returns start says it’s good my child is having a fresh start. I just don’t understand what’s going on. It wasn’t like that. But, the principal had informed me; and tried to minimalize it but the threat was so gruesome and my daughter was so upset, I was told. I finally realized that mental illness, bullying and friendship should not be an excuse for a child who bullies and is deeply disturbed. She made excuses for therapy until it was probably mandated; but, we still live in the same place.

    I now feel the parent should be responsible in some way especially when it’s documented that they hurt a child mentally or physically. There are so many services available in schools. By the way this was a private school. But, other children shouldn’t have to be the victim of the anger of a bully because a parent wants to pretend that making cupcakes or an ice cream playdate will remedy to the situation. Don’t get me wrong there is a no tolerance policy if my child exhibits the same behavior. But, I expect the same in the world there are too many excuses by parents and no one is accountable.

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    A Mom: Thanks so much for taking the time to respond. I am so very sorry to hear about what happened to your daughter. It sounds like, however, you stepped up as a parent and really protected her. The decisions you made about moving schools and using financial resources to protect your daughter should be applauded. I agree that parents are responsible for their children – good or bad. I wish you and your daughter the best of luck. I also hope that the bully gets the help he/she needs.

  6. Vern Denis says:
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    I don’t think there is a stock answer to this question. Hold the parents accountable ? Sure if, and only if, you can prove that the parents (1) either did somnething to their kid that caused the behavior or (2) actively tried to cover up the problem of bullying

    I disagree that you should not tell your children to fight back – as a child I was bullied until I fought. Once I did fight back, the bullying ceased – permanently

    It is a problem to which there is no easy answer but I think simply filing lawsuits will do NOTHING to solve the problem if the desire is to find a general solution to the problem. That will take better training of teachers and others charged with supervision of other peoples children to enable them to identify the problem more quickly.

    Understand this: sometimes good and loving parents who do everything right can still wind up with a bad child. Not every problem in the world has a good solution or deserves compensation